Finding and developing offensive linemen late in the draft was a specialty of Jeff Fisher's during his time in Tennessee. Never during his tenure as head coach, from 1994 through 2010, did the team draft an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. Can Fisher bring his Midas Touch for blockers to the St. Louis Rams?
Fisher was asked about his track record of not drafting linemen in the first round during his Friday press conference at the NFL Combine. He gave much of the credit to offensive line coach Mike Munchak, now the TItans' head coach.
"Brad Hopkins was selected a couple of years beforehand [13th overall in 1993] and Coach Munchak does an outstanding job of evaluating the offensive line as did the staff," Fisher said. "We just felt like over the years that we could get those guys in Round 2, 3 or 4 and develop 'em. And we did so."
After watching first round picks like Alex Barron and Jason Smith bust in St. Louis, while high priced free agents like Jason Brown underperform their contracts, Rams fans, not to mention quarterback Sam Bradford, are hungry for success up front. And because so many of those players are eating up more than their fair share of cap space, the team needs to find and develop depth the way FIsher's Titans did.
Fisher believes his new offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau, is capable of duplicating that success.
"We've got an outstanding offensive line coach with us as well (Paul Boudreau) and we share some of the same philosophies," Fisher said.
Boudreau has a similar history with finding offensive linemen on the bargain shelves near the bottom of the isle. Harvey Dahl, now with the Rams, broke through with the Falcons in 2008, Boudreau's first year as offensive coach there. Justin Blalock, a second-round pick in 2007, developed under Boudreau. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, an undrafted free agent acquired in 2006, made the Pro Bowl under Boudreau's tutelage. The least successful of the Falcons' offensive linemen under Boudreau was left tackle Sam Baker, a first-round pick in 2008.
During a three-year stint in Jacksonville from 2003 through 2005, Boudreau's line featured a number of starters from the later rounds, including left tackle Khalif Barnes, a second-round pick in 2005.
Rams fans are familiar with Boudreau's work thanks to his time here in 2006 and 2007. Among the more notable achievements was scraping together solid offensive line play from a rotation of backups pressed into service in 2006 as the line was decimated by injuries. That included positive performances from Mark Setterstrom and Richie Incognito, both rookies from the seventh and third rounds in 2006. Both Setterstrom and Incognito had plenty of talent. Injuries devastated Setterstrom's career, and Richie Incognito never learned to properly channel his aggressive nature, though he did much better with his inner demons in 2006 and 2007, while Boudreau was his position coach.
Boudreau's track record does not match Munchak's, who coached Fisher's line from 1997-2010, but it does offer plenty of reason for optimism.