St. Louis Rams position battles: Checking in on the offensive line

Daniel Doelling

The Rams head into Week 2 of the preseason with the offensive line picture still unsettled at left guard and backup tackle. And that's just fine with Jeff Fisher.

The backup quarterbacks will not be the only players switching places for the St. Louis Rams this week. Head coach Jeff Fisher said Tuesday that Shelley Smith would get the start at the open left guard spot this weekend against the Packers, a week after Chris Williams made the start.

"We'll go back the other way," Fisher said. "We're moving guys around, as you can see."

Swapping his men in and out is essentially Fisher's way of getting each player battling for an open position as many reps as possible. It's happening on the practice field as well. As far as the horse race goes between Smith and Williams, the starting job is still up in the air because both are giving the coaches plenty to think about with their play.

"They're both playing well," Fisher said. "We have a good situation there because both of them are getting great experience and one guy's going to get the job, the other's going to have plenty of reps to back up both sides."

There's another rotation happening on the offensive line, this one at right tackle while Rodger Saffold recovers from a dislocated shoulder. Joe Barksdale took over for him during the Cleveland game last week. Now, Brandon Washington is getting some reps on the right side in practice.

Unsettled position battles and the opportunity to get other players involved with the starting offense is a net positive for the Rams this time of year. More reps help players get better acclimated should they have to fill in for injured players during the season.

"The work for them is extremely valuable, just to have the flexibility to play the different positions," Fisher said.

A familiar setting

Smith and Barksdale each saw plenty of snaps with the Rams last year, part of a rotating cast of players filling in for a frequently injured offensive line. Both got their first starts with the Rams last season in Week 7 at the Edward Jones Dome against the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterback Sam Bradford expressed his confidence in Barksdale's ability to man the outside spot.

"I'm comfortable with Joe," Bradford said Tuesday. "Obviously he stepped in, I think he did a great job last year. I thought he played extremely well against Clay (Matthews). So, I'm extremely comfortable with him, and I think he's going to continue to get more comfortable the more he's in there with the ones."

Barksdale made two starts last season, but he was filling in for Saffold on the left side. According to the game charting numbers at Pro Football Focus, Barksdale gave up a sack, a hit and a hurry against the Packers, a game the Rams lost by a final score of 30-20.

Smith made six starts, but he and Williams rotated at the right guard spot for an injured Harvey Dahl during the last two weeks of the season. PFF graded him out positively as a run blocker, and his overall grades from PFF might have been better were it not for a rough outing against the 49ers in Week 10. He was credited with two sacks and a total of five pressures in that outing.

Those are game charting stats, so there's a certain amount of subjectivity to them. Still, the numbers show a pair of linemen with the potential to be NFL starters.

They'll all have another shot to prove they belong this week.

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