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 grinding out our annual roster review, taking a look at where the St. Louis Rams stand on the eve of free agency and camp.
One of the most interesting position groups for the 2011 Rams will be the defensive line. Chris Long's 2010 campaign earned a lot of respect for bringing constant pressure. With teams focused on Long, James Hall racked up the second highest sack total in his 11 years in the league. Fred Robbins resuscitated his career providing a talent at the nose that the Rams haven't enjoyed in a long time. And, of course, the Rams spent their sole first round pick on a special pass rush talent in Robert Quinn who hasn't seen the field in over a year.
For your listening pleasure, I've got one of my favorite tracks from Amy Winehouse's Grammy-swamped Back to Black album. No eulogy, no diatribe. Just a jam: You Know I'm No Good Remix ft. Ghostface Killah.
The defensive front depth chart after the jump.
Yes, thank you
As has been well-documented, Chris Long led the NFL in QB hurries last year; he also posted a career-high 8.5 sacks in his third year. As a pass-rush DE, he's somewhat limited. With well-above average strength, great hands and a tenacity that last for the entire game, he's more than a mainstay on the Rams' defense. He's a cornerstone. He's disciplined in run contain assignments, and focused on passing downs.
The interesting thing to keep an eye on is how offensive lines gameplan for him this year. Last year, teams often double-teamed him (sometimes even triple-teaming him), allowing James Hall to benefit from one-on-one looks; Hall proved he was more than capable of taking advantage of the lack of respect. And adding Quinn to this line should only open things up for Chris in 2011.
Beast mode. Friend of TST and occasional Turf Show Radio guest Doug Farrar had this to say when running the SackSEER model on some big name pass rushers from this year's draft:
Putting him on the other side of Chris Long might be illegal, especially with Steve Spagnuolo overseeing the both of them. This is one of those times when I simply close the spreadsheet, watch him all over again, and wonder if I'm looking at the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
I don't have much else to add here. I'm ready to see the Long-Quinn combo in action.
Robbins was a revelation in the run game last year, clogging holes with his 325-pound frame consistently. More surprising was his contribution on pass defense. It wasn't just the 6 sacks (a career-high in his 11 years); it was the power he brought. Collapsing pockets and getting in the face of opposing QBs, Robbins was a big positive for the Rams.
The Rams have tried to fill this spot by drafting Darell Scott and Clifton Ryan in 2009 and 2007, respectively. Neither has provided the impact Robbins did. Age and endurance are the keys for Robbins this year. If he holds up for the entirety of the season and can affect opposing interior O-lines like last year, he'll be a key figure on the D-line.
As I said earlier, Hall had a great season last year, racking up sacks and providing another powerful DE for Spags to work into the rotation. Moving forward, his role will diminish, largely due to the addition of Quinn. With Quinn at RDE and Chris Long working against RTs on passing downs, Hall will be an early-down contributor and perhaps slide inside in passing situations. He's still a relevant member of this unit.
Like Robbins, the issue is age. For a team that will likely need to play all 16 games with its key personnel (and one that hopes to get those key personnel to the postseason), can James Hall give the Rams 100% for four months? He certainly finished 2010 well. Here's hoping for the same in 2011.
Eh, why not
Selvie's a wild card. A good 25 pounds or so lighter than Chris Long and James Hall, Selvie was often powered out in his rookie season. That was to be expected. He did show flashes of what made him a nationally-known DE at USF in college: quick hands, an ability to drop his shoulder and close off the edge quickly. With Robert Quinn on board, Spags has a bit of an embarassment of riches here (by design, obviously). Could we see Long, Quinn and Selvie on certain downs? I wouldn't be surprised.
We know Spags loves to mix up the rotation on the line, and now that he has a DE with the skills to work the edge and the frame to hold up against NFL-size OTs in Quinn, I could see him using Selvie more often than he did in 2010.
My favorite yeoman on the team, Gibson is a throwback DT. He's not athletic. He's not fast. Overall, he's not that talented. But he's strong, disciplined and works hard. That can get you on most NFL rosters, and four the most four pillarsy team in the NFL, it can keep you on the roster for years.
Gibson has benefited from the lack of a true talent at the 3-tech on the Rams' roster. It's a position I've had hopes of filling for years, in guys like Glenn Dorsey and Ndamukong Suh. Alas, it's still there in 2011; we could do better, but we could do damn worse too.
* As a 4-year vet with an expiring contract, it's difficult to project how his FA status will play out. The Rams tendered him, but at the original level - a sign they'd like to keep him around, but on the cheap. Time will tell.
The Gary Gibson of Rams DEs, Ah You is the most Spagnuoloish player of all-time. Built like a defensive end with a below-average defensive tackle's skill set, Ah You can play just about any position on the line and stand out at none of them.
He does maintain his assignments well, and his work ethic isn't in question. If it were, he'd be on trial in the Court of the Four Pillars for Motivation Inadequacy, the Honorable Ken Flajole presiding... In any case, he's under contract for 2011, so he'll see field time in 2011.
IMO, Quinn squeezes Sims out of the Rams' plans. A sixth-round project prior to last year, the Rams don't have much room in the DE corps with Long, Quinn and Hall at the top. It's hard to believe he'll see more time than Selvie moving forward.
Maybe the most surprising contributor on the entire team in 2010, Cudjo worked his way onto the field by late September, and was a relatively dependable rotational member at DT. Again, as I mentioned while talking about Gary Gibson, you can attribute his playing time largely to the lack of a true starter at the position. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rams re-signed him to give Spags a 300-pound DT to use in 2011.
Not extended a tender, it's impossible to envision a scenario where Ryan is a Ram in 2011. Adieu.
(This section has been outsourced to the Bleacher Report)
Jimmy Saddler-McQueen is a talented youngster who has shown potential. With the NFL Lockout still ongoing and the 2011 NFL preseason threatened by the lack of a CBA agreement between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, it is possible that fans of JSM will instead have to pay attention to Tony Romo's wedding or Brett Favre.
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*The B/R robot fills out the rest of this paragraph with the most SEO-friendly terms, saying absolutely nothing unique nor intelligent about the Rams. Bleacher Report is the exposed asshole of internet sports media.*
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Scott's been maybe the most inconsistent on the team, if not just the DL. Talented and strong, the Rams drafted Scott with the hopes the Clemson product would turn into Fred Robbins lite. Injuries and on-field confusion have slowed that transition, arguably bringing it to a halt.
Scott's under contract for two more years, but 2011 could be his last year in St. Louis. With Robbins firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart and a much stronger (and more diverse) DE unit, I could see the Rams cutting ties with Scott ahead of his 2012 contract year.