Up the Middle: Let's Talk Interior DL

"if fred robbins shows his age our entire defense is sunk"

This is a quote from nodisrespect in the comments of another Fanpost.

As always, this is an editorial interspersed with casual research. Feel free to correct any misinformation that I write. This also is my first slightly negative fanpost. New things everyday, eh?

However, I don't have much research or editorial material to present, but I want to raise discussion on this issue so I'll keep this post short. nodisrespect's quote summarizes what I think is the looming concern for our free agency. I like to use bullets because they are easier to read than a block of text, so here goes:



  • Fred Robbins held our interior defensive line together last year. If he gets injured, our rotation loses one of our only starters and forces a rotational guy like Gary Gibson to start playing a role that he really isn't qualified to handle. At age 34, both injury and decline in play should be major concerns. Without Robbins, our defensive line will fall apart, and a run defense cannot be a single star MLB.
  • Drafting woes. The offseason has been reduced to the NFL draft because of the danged lockout. Spags received a lot of criticism for deferring to McDaniels' plans and drafting a TE when quality defensive tackles (Marvin Austin and Terrell McClain) were both still available. While in the big picture, it does make more sense to put our offense at a higher priority than our defense in this year's draft, but in 2012, unless we make a major FA move, we MUST draft a starter at DT in 2012. This does not have to be in the first round, but if this year's draft proves anything, plenty of quality players can still be found in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. 
  • Ferocious four? After our first round pick of Robert Quinn, I've seen this term thrown around as a fun nickname for our defensive line. I cannot agree with this name. While I love Quinn and am certain that he's going to dominate some quarterbacks, he is a pass rush specialist and a good (not elite) run stopper. In the 2011 draft, we did next to nothing to address the potential (Fred Robbins) gaping hole in the middle of our defensive line. If this issue is not addressed in the FA, the hole will remain while we terrorize on the edges. 
    If we want to keep this in terms of "famous fours", we can be the Fantastic Four. The Human Torch (Robert Quinn) blazes past OT's and nothing can stop The Thing (Chris Long). Who's left in the middle? A stretchy Mr. Fantastic and nothing... oh wait, that's the Invisible Woman. 
  • Pass Defense-centric. Our 2011 draft seemed to focus on our pass defense more than our run defense. This makes some sense considering that in yards allowed, our Run Defense (113 yds/g 17th in NFL) ranked slightly ahead of our Pass Defense (224 yds/g 19th in NFL). Also, the untimely departure of OJ Atogwe forced us to address the safety position. However 113 yards/game is not the mark of an elite defense. And our draft seemed to be all for the passing:
    1 DE, 2 Safeties, 1 CB, 1 OLB
  • FA Offseason. Hopefully, the lockout will end in time for a free agent period, but things are looking glum in the NFL. Ideally, our FO can fulfill the speculation and pick up Barry Cofield from New York. He's definitely becoming a FA, and the question is if we can put out the incentives and cash to entice him to Spag's defense. If we do get a young starter like Cofield (only 27), the need of DT is pushed back from our 2012 draft board, freeing us up to find other positions or draft a later round DT. 
  • Clifton Ryan. First of all, what ever happened to this guy? He was our 2007 fifth round pick and looked like a playmaker in his debut season. He didn't start a single game but still managed to pick up 2 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Gradually, he worked his way up to 15 starts by the 2009 season and produced a decent play each year, starting at DT and averaging 34 tackles a year. Last year, he was put on the IR because of a serious migraine issue, but hopefully that can be resolved. I feel like Ryan has become a forgotten member of the Rams DL. He is a good player. 
Without shame I say, hopefully Robert Quinn and Clifton Ryan can be a real headache for opposing offenses. What do you think community?
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