Jeff Fisher has made it a top priority to protect Sam Bradford this season. The offense is designed for it, and the St. Louis Rams will run the ball more and use short, quick passes to limit hits on Bradford. Nevertheless, the Rams cannot completely protect Sam from being hit. It's part of being an NFL quarterback. The offensive line looks like a concern. Barry Richardson and Jason Smith are battling to win the right tackle spot though, both struggled mightily last season.
Offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau is adamant that he will start the best 5 offensive linemen in the best lineup, but one has to question this when the best right tackle on the team, Harvey Dahl is being used as a right guard.
Jason Smith is not a player who should start for any team (at least at right tackle). His technique is horrendous and many question his desire. The Rams are forced to try to get production out of him based on his contract. They were hoping that Boudreau would be able to get some decent production out of all the raw talent of Smith, but that has not been the case. Instead Barry Richardson is lined up to start on the right side. Pro Football Focus gave him a -17.2 grade in pass blocking last season with Kansas City. Either player starting on that side could spell disaster for Sam Bradford and the offense.
If the Rams truly want the best lineup for pass protection, a move they should strongly consider is moving Harvey Dahl to the right tackle spot. Dahl did this exact thing last season for six games and he performed exceptionally. Pro Football Focus gave him a positive grade in pass blocking at right tackle in five of six games.
There is no doubt Harvey Dahl is the best option on the team, but he is also the best right guard on the team. Moving him would leave a weakness up the middle in both pass protection and run blocking, but the weakness left by having Smith or Richardson at right tackle is far worse.
Moving Dahl to right tackle would leave a hole at right guard, but there are options that could fill that spot. Rookie Rokevious Watkins can move well for a big man, but he is untested. Robert Turner has proven to be a decent option in the past, but he is currently filling in for Scott Wells.
The best option may just be putting Jason Smith at RG. Smith struggles in pass protection, but he can run block effectively. Moving him inside would let him play to his strength of run blocking and help mask his issues in pass protection.
One issue that many bring up with the strategy of moving Jason Smith to guard is his concussion issues. Guard is a more physical position than offensive tackle and the potential for head to head contact is higher. Thus many believe putting Jason inside is asking for a concussion. It's a nice theory, but there are no figures out there to prove that guards have more concussions than tackles. Also Smith has had two severe concussions playing OT already. For him playing football is asking for a concussion. He is a risk for one no matter what position he plays.
The Rams themselves have shown no signs of moving Dahl from his RG spot. Despite the need to protect Sam Bradford, the team also needs to run the ball well and moving a road grader like Dahl away from guard hurts run blocking. Also with Scott Wells return in question, moving Dahl to RT would leave the Rams with Quinn Ojinnaka at LG, Robert Turner at C and Rokevious Watkins/Jason Smith at RG. Defenses would then pressure Bradford right up the middle, which could be more damaging in the end.
If Wells does return however, a lineup of LT, Roger Saffold, LG, Ojinnaka, C, Wells, RG, Turner/Smith/Watkins, RT, Dahl would be far superior in pass protection than a lineup with Dahl at RG and Smith/Richardson at RT.
Sam Bradford has been sacked 70 times in 26 games and hit countless others. It started to greatly affect his play last season. The Rams can only go as far as Sam Bradford takes them, but Sam can only be effective if he is kept relitively clean from pressure. The Rams need to look at all options to protect Sam from running the ball more, using more max protections and even moving Harvey Dahl from his natural position of RG to RT.