No matter how hard I try to think about something else the same thing keeps popping into my head (well, not ALL the time, wink): When, where, and how the Rams are going to get a DT? Obviously, the April draft is one place that the Rams are 99.5% sure to get a DT, probably on the first day, likely in the first round; I think we all agree on that.
I still would like to see the grab a solid, experienced DT outside the draft, not to be the end all solution, but to provide the team with quality depth.
With the news that the Eagles signed former Colts DT Montae Reagor to a three-year contract. [They signed him as a pass rushing specialist, hence the Rams lack of interest, given that we need someone who can draw and handle double teams. Read a detailed scouting report here.] As such, rumors have surfaced that the Eagles might be willing to part with one of their current DTs - they have long que of them now. The name mentioned today is Darwin Walker. I asked SBN's own dyed in green wool Eagles fan over at Bleeding Green Nation about the validity of this rumor as well as an insider's look at Walker's skills and abilities. Here's what he said:
Basically Walker is good pass rushing DT. He's struggled against the run at times, but has always had a knack for getting to QB and creating pressure from the inside. Typically he's been good for 5-7 sacks a year, which is pretty good for a DT.
It's not exactly what a team allowing 150+ yards a game on the ground would be looking for in a DT. Walker's a converted DE too. He sounds like he'd be more of an under tackle type guy, dependent on another D-lineman to take care of blockers. Reagor is obviously an upgrade to Walker's position, hence the talk of moving Walker over the other Eagle DTs. However, the best pass defense is a good pass rush, so Walker could certianly add to the mix in that respect, IF they could get him cheap with a 5th or 6th rounder.
Using Football Outsiders advance stats, we can get a pretty good idea of where the Rams weakness was defending against the Run. In the middle, opponents rushed for 4.89 adjusted line yards (ALY) [definition at the top of the page linked to above], which was the second worst total in the NFL. 42% of opponent rushing attempts against the Rams came through the middle as they clearly looked to exploit our biggest weakness. You can see on the left side the Rams run defense was much better (3.60 ALY for left end, 11th in the NFL; 4.48 ALY for the left tackle, 20th in the NFL) as teams avoided left DE Leonard Little. On the other side, immediately right of the middle, opponents ran 24% of their rushing plays agains the Rams for 4.78 ALY, 22nd in the NFL. The Rams LBs helped to stop some of the bleeding there, but there was only so much converted OLB Witherspoon could do in the middle as teams easily brushed aside Kennedy and sent a blocker to take clear the middle of any LBs or cheating safeties.
Given the grim reality illustrated by the stats above, it's not at all an understatement to say that the Rams need a solid DT presence in the middle, even something just to get them to the league's middle of the pack in terms of run defense would be huge.
This is walk year for Kennedy, and if wants to continue to have a career in the NFL, he'll be looking to step it up. I'm wondering if this is going into some of Linehan et al's decision making when it comes to pursuing a free agent DT. Thus, drafting a DT like Okoye to have his adjustment year in the league and be part of a rotation with Kennedy and Wroten on the line. They might also be counting on Claude Wroten, as the UT, to step up in his third year, but he's still more of a pass rushing type DT, unless he puts on more weight (he's listed at 295) and builds strength. Wroten was a hyped prospect coming from LSU, first team All SEC.
The more I think about it, the more I'm guessing that this is at least part of the scenario the Rams are counting on, given their disinterest in any free agent DTs.
Since it's really just a matter of getting a solid NT, a guy with the size and strength to draw and handle the double team, maybe they don't even need to grab the seemlingly Wroten-like Branch or Okoye in the first round, and lurk into the later rounds to grab a size guy to stick into the rotation. Is this the plan Linehan and his staff are taking? Don't know, but I expect we'll have a better idea pretty soon.