The St. Louis Rams collected a small bounty in free agents yesterday, following up on the week's first addition, S Quintin Mikell. After two years of talking about a youth movement at Rams Park, to a man, the moves yesterday made the Rams a little older. If things work according to plan, those moves will also make them a little wiser.
Harvey Dahl stole the headlines when news broke that the Rams agreed to terms with the veteran guard. With the exception of Jason Brown (and since Jacob Bell seems to be all but gone), the Rams have a young offensive line. Dahl gives the line a tenacious presence; he's a tone setter, as Bernie Miklasz called him, a borderline psycho...in a good way.
From Rodger Saffold on the left to Jason Smith on the right, this is a skilled group of linemen, but life in the NFL trenches demands an equal amount of sheer meanness. Concerns about Smith's willingness to battle have been expressed before, and there have also been whispers about John Greco's passion as well. Having Dahl as a linemate, the angry, yet concerned first sergeant of the platoon, infuses the group with that tenacity. He could really assist with extracting the full potential of Smith and Saffold.
One other veteran signing offers some of those "intangible" dividends. I snarked about it and Teven had the headline of the decade on this post, but the Al Harris addition is a smart one too. First, if he has anything at all left in the tank at 36, he gives the Rams a veteran presence in the nickel package. Andrew Brandt, the former Packers front office man who knows Harris, said this about him on Twitter today:
Congrats to old friend Al Harris inking deal w/Rams. Driven leader with strong work ethic (and freakishly low body fat). Will help them.
For a team expected to compete this year, Harris exposes the Rams corners, even a veteran Ron Bartell, to the kind of competitiveness expected of a playoff caliber team. Yes, it's trite and I hate using cliches like that, but there really is something to it.
As far as the Zac Diles addition goes, James Laurinaitis is firmly entrenched as the leader of that group. With him, there's absolutely no need for a mentor type. Diles gives the Rams smart football who know his role. He's already been told that the starting job on the weakside is his to lose. Diles is physical and strong tackler; he had just one broken tackle last year per STATS, LLC. He won't play in nickel packages and might not play on third downs, but could be the solid two down LB the Rams lacked last season.
When you grow a team from the ground up, like Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo have done, the youth movement is the essential first step. For all the talk about pillars, players like Sam Bradford, Chris Long, Smith, Saffold, Laurinaitis, etc. hold the franchise on their shoulders. That foundation built, adding to the structure with the right mix of veterans can really bolster the whole thing.