The 2011 NFL season is finally upon us and it appears the St. Louis Rams have finally pieced together an incredibly reliable and solid offensive line. After having to sit through a few seasons of a line representing a carousel, the line the front office has assembled for the 2011 season should be a welcome sight to all Rams fans. They've added a gritty veteran in the Atlanta Falcons' Harvey Dahl, they've restructured the contract of LG Jacob Bell and their two young tackles should continue their progression.
Yep, QB Sam Bradford has all the reason to feel comfortable in the pocket this season. And with that said, let's take a look at what the Rams are working with heading into 2011:
Rodger Saffold (LT)
Saffold appeared to be the steal of the draft in 2010, with the Colts surprisingly passing up on the tackle out of Indiana, allowing the Rams to snatch a protector for Sam Bradford's blindside in the near and distant future. While not many expected Saffold to take over the LT job—with the common belief being that Jason Smith would occupy the position—the youngster immediately stepped in and did an outstanding job at the position.
He should only get better this year. At 6'5" and 323 pounds he has good size and moves very well for a big guy. He could be slightly more effective in the run game, but his ability to protect Bradford more than makes up for it.
With Saffold, the Rams have a solid force on the outside for years to come.
Jacob Bell (LG)
After restructuring his contract, Bell returns to the Rams as a pass-blocking force at left guard. Like Saffold, he isn't everything you'd want in terms of a run blocker, but he is considered one of the better pass-blocking guards in all of the NFL.
In his time with the St. Louis Rams, Bell has solidified the left guard position, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
Jason Brown (C)
Brown hasn't lived up to the five-year, $37.5 million deal he signed two seasons ago, but it isn't like he has been a bad player throughout that time. He hasn't been great, but he has been serviceable and he should continue to hold his own through the 2011 season.
Brown is the leader of the offensive line, the one who makes all of the protection calls at the line of scrimmage and spots any hints in the defensive alignment. If he begins playing up to his full ability, the Rams will have another valuable piece along the line, and Bradford can sit even more comfortably in the pocket.
Harvey Dahl (RG)
Dahl is a player Rams fans are going to fall in love with. In terms of attitude and tenacity, he compares a lot to former Rams guard Richie Incognito. He is a hot-head, often wearing his emotions on his sleeve and will stick up for his teammates in a heartbeat.
I know you're probably thinking, "But Incognito was nothing but a drive-killing headache when he was in St. Louis!" and I understand. However, Dahl is also incredibly different from Incognito. While they both play with intense passion and emotion, Dahl is far better at keeping his emotions under control. He won't go making silly fouls just because he has a chip on his shoulder the way Incognito did. When Dahl commits any personal foul calls this season, he will have a much better reason and will do so far less frequently than Incognito.
Rest assured, Rams fans, St. Louis has made a major upgrade at right guard.
Jason Smith (RT)
When the Rams drafted Smith second overall a couple seasons ago, they expected him to be the left tackle of the near and distant future. Funny how plans change, isn't it?
While Smith hasn't been the stellar tackle the Rams were hoping he'd immediately become, he has been an adequate tackle when he has stayed healthy. He doesn't make any bone-headed mistakes, he isn't a drive killer, and his blocking skills—be it pass or run—aren't lacking to the point where he is a liability.
This should be a year of improvement for the young man. He is healthy, the Rams have a solid line set up around him, and he will be doing plenty of pass blocking. If ever there were a time to take a big step forward, it would be this year.
It appears Saffold has beaten out Smith for the job at left tackle for the distant future, but there is nothing stopping Smith from becoming a very crucial piece of this offensive line for years to come.
Renardo Foster (G, T)
Foster is the kind of guy you like to have on your football team. He isn't capable enough to be a consistent starter in the NFL, but he has enough skill and poise to be a passable backup. He started in place of an injured Jason Smith at one point and performed well enough that the Rams would definitely be wise to keep him around.
Quinn Ojinnaka (G, T)
Ojinnaka is another valuable backup to have. He doesn't do anything incredibly well, but he also doesn't do anything incredibly bad. Should a lineman get hurt at one point throughout the season and the Rams need a fill-in for a week or two, Ojinnaka would likely be their best bet.
Adam Goldberg (G, T)
Is it just me or has Goldberg been a Ram forever? Goldberg started for the Rams at right guard throughout the 2010 season, and while he didn't impress anyone, he also didn't drive someone to extreme frustration. He will serve much more valuable as a backup, and it is good to know that he is there should the Rams ever need someone to fill in.
Hank Fraley (C, G)
Should something happen to Jason Brown, Fraley would likely be the one called upon for the Rams. He is a veteran with a decades worth of experience, but how well he can perform as of now is relatively unknown. He didn't fare well in the preseason last year, but he never saw any action in the regular season, making it fairly difficult to pass judgement on the center.
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