The Rams' 2012 defense is shaping up to be defined in the trenches.
Jim Thomas has a great piece this morning going through the roster with Les Snead with more relevant quotes than I can pilfer in good faith. But maybe the most important takeaway was the one Gregg Rosenthal offered at NFL.com: that the defensive line can be a "dominant" unit.
"We've got two young ends," Snead said, referring to Chris Long and Robert Quinn. "We've added Langford. We've got Darell Scott coming back. Bam! You throw in Brockers, and all of a sudden that unit gets strong. Now the DL becomes a dominant unit."
Many here at TST have pointed out how strong this line could well be this season. I think we're all excited about the potential with Chris Long entering his prime, a second year Robert Quinn, the run-stuffing abilities of Michael Brockers, and a versatile tackle in Langford whose 2009 and 2010 seasons suggested he was heading toward the top tier.
My question is not of potential, but reliance.
We know the Rams will need Sam Bradford to step up and invigorate one of the worst passing offenses of 2011. He'll have to elevate his wide receivers to create a more robust offense that includes a two-headed rushing attack in Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead. But on defense, how much will the line determine the Rams' fate?
Consider this - Chris Long posted a career high 13 sacks last year. Robert Quinn pitched in with a handful himself in his rookie year. Elder statesman James Hall quietly added a half dozen to close out his 5-year run with the Rams. With that much pressure off the edge, the Rams were able to hold opposing offenses to just over 200 passing yards per game, despite a lack of talent at DT and having sent two teams' worth of cornerbacks to IR.
Sure, part of that was due to the Rams' opponents being ahead so often that they ran the ball to kill the clock. And, sadly enough, the Rams couldn't stop the run which motivated those opponents to run even more often than not (the Rams faced the 5th least pass attempts league-wide last season; on the other hand, they defended more rushes than all but two teams).
Nevertheless, to limit the passing attacks of opponents to the degree they did relying largely on the defensive ends speaks volumes. Add in the pieces at DT and CB, and you have the makings of a really impressive passing defense in the makings. How much of it comes down to the defensive line as a unit? And what does that mean for the defense as a whole?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but it's worth considering throughout the offseason that this Rams defense will go as far as the D-line takes them.
That's not a bad situation to be in, though you have to be concerned with the lack of depth as former Rams like Hall Davis, George Selvie, Adam Carriker, Clifton Ryan, Keith Jackson and a host of free agents came and went.
Still, the starting four alone offer a cornerstone that can propel this defensive to greater heights than in years past.