All eyes are on the right guard spot as the St. Louis Rams think about their offensive line for 2011.
The NFL lockout is ending soon, real soon. And that means teams can get back to the business of preparing for the 2011 NFL season. Just as important, we fans can get back to the business of preparing ourselves for the season. To get back up to speed, TST is kicking off our roster review, taking a look at where the St. Louis Rams stand on the eve of free agency and camp.
Despite all the needs the Rams have left to fill, the offensive line has been a hot topic lately. Our Twitter feed overflowed lately with talk of the line, especially guards, and Rams Herd had a post last night looking specifically at the Rams' need on the inside.
Let's get right down to business with a look at the Rams front five for 2011.
For the most part, the starting group you saw last year will be mostly the same, four-fifths of it, for 2011 and probably a couple years beyond that. The notable exception is the right guard spot, held down by Adam Goldberg. Player by player, left to right...
LT Rodger Saffold - A rookie sensation last year, he still missed out on the praise due for having the best year of any other tackle from his draft class. Not that Saffold was by any means perfect. The Rams second-round pick struggled against some of the league's better pass rushers, which isn't uncommon for a rookie to do. Pro Football Focus recently graded the Rams line as the seventh worst in the NFL last season. I really like PFF and the work they do, but I took some exception to this piece, and not just out of sheer homerism. They made some pretty subjective statements yet failed to include an overview of how the quantify their stats and the rankings those produce. That PFF piece called the Rams tackles "far from impressive," but a prior post had Saffold ranked as one of the 15 best pass blockers in the league. Nevertheless, Saffold should take a step forward in his second season. He may not have the ceiling of Russell Okung, but he provides a solid bookend for years to come.
LG Jacob Bell - Bell was the Rams best lineman last year. He's athletic and does particularly well as a pass blocker, but he can pull and get to the second level to have an impact in the running game as well. We're told that the Rams coaches will be watching to see what kind of shape he's in when players report. Bell is due $6 million in salary this season and through 2013.
C Jason Brown - Brown did not play up to his contract value last year, struggling against the more powerful defensive linemen. Mauling was never Brown's specialty, but he'll need to play better in 2011. He dealt with knee injuries in 2009, and it bothered him last season too...so much so that the Rams later decided that it was more important to keep Hank Fraley active on gamedays than John Greco. Weaker guard play on his right side didn't help. Keep an eye on Brown this year, he may be the most important lineman that nobody's talking about right now.
RG Adam Goldberg - The weakest link on the offensive line last year, a big part of the reason the Rams running game never got off the ground. But there were $50 million guaranteed reasons that the coaching staff ultimately decided to stick with Goldberg whose experience playing tackle made him a more consistent pass blocker than the alternatives. My understanding is that a contingent within the building at Rams Park did not want to start, but if a team is leaning on a rookie quarterback, one that the franchise is building around, going with the guy who had a better chance of keeping him upright made sense. Goldberg is an unrestricted free agent this year. Personally, I think he has value as a reserve lineman. The Rams might feel differently, and given his experience, Goldberg might easily be able to find a deal elsewhere.
RT Jason Smith - Smith had his moments, good and bad, last year. At times, he looked like the guy picked second overall in 2009. He has to play more consistently. His salary is one of the Rams' largest this year at $8.5 million, and his rookie contract runs through 2014, which is a voidable year. Right now, he's "good enough," but he's paid to be much better than that. I sometimes wonder whether or not he has the mean streak required to play on the offensive line in the NFL. He has to define himself this year.
Knocking on the Door
OG John Greco - Some have criticized Greco for not earning the starting job since being drafted in 2008. Those jobs really wasn't his to earn that year or the year after as they were occupied by Richie Incognito and Jacob Bell. Going into training camp last year he was expected to compete but sat out most of August with an injury. Prior to the lockout, Greco received an original round tender, third round, from the Rams, which would seem to indicate the Rams aren't ready to quit him.
We really don't know much about this group, not having seen much playing time. Any one of them could surprise in camp or be easily replaced with a new crop of UDFAs and waiver wire adds.
OT Renardo Foster - Foster started in place of Jason Smith against and did nothing to hurt his case for being a backup. He received a low RFA tender.
OT Ryan McKee - Plucked off waivers in December, McKee is a relatively unknown commodity.
C Drew Miller - Another obscure linemen who spent last season on the practice squad.
There's a case to be made for bringing in a free agent to fix the guard spot. However, given the other needs and likely targets at DT, RB and S, Devaney won't have the cash to make a big splash with a guy like Harvey Dahl or Carl Nicks. This really should be Greco's job to lose, but he figures to be on a short leash since the previous regime drafted him.
If anything, the biggest need is an interior lineman who can play center in the event Jason Brown can't play. Fraley may be that guy, but he did nothing to impress in the preseason last year. There are some potential players available among the undrafted free agents, and the Rams are likely to add an OL or two via that route for camp, especially with 90-man rosters.