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Early returns on the Rams o-line investment

The St. Louis Rams have made a big investment in their offensive line over the last two years. It's part of a plan by GM Billy Devaney and new head coach Steve Spagnuolo to lay a solid foundation for the rebuilding process. Get strong up front and build outward.

So far this season, the results have been mixed, but do indeed seem to be trending in the right direction. Check out the OL grades from CaliRamsMan in this fanpost, there's much to mull over there.

This feature at Football Outsiders takes a look at the highest paid interior linemen in the NFL. There are two members of the St. Louis Rams on that list: C Jason Brown and LG Jacob Bell.

The investment in Brown has already paid dividends. Steven Jackson is having a rock solid season, picking up more than half of his carries through the middle of the offensive line. Marc Bulger can't blame the OL for his myriad problems. Last year, too much pressure and too many sacks came through the middle of the offensive line with an undersized, often overmatched center and Jacob Bell struggling with injuries and being underweight. Brown is second only to Jets G Alan Faneca in guaranteed money and average yearly salary, a close second. One key difference: Brown was 25 when he signed his deal with the Rams; Faneca was 31.

Tied for tenth on the list is 2008 free agent pickup G Jacob Bell. Bell had a disappointing season, to say the least, in his first year with the Rams. It's more of a mixed bag this season. The stats show a pretty solid performance from Bell against Detroit last week. According to Pro Football Focus, Bell had a 2.4 rating in run blocking, that number is close to the highest end of their grading system and tied with Jason Smith for best on the team. In the running lane breakdown at PFF, Jackson ran 5 times over the LG for a total of 43 yards and an average of 8.6 YPC. Bell made a nice block (as did others) to spring Jackson for 26 yards late in the second quarter to set up the fake FG touchdown. It didn't help perceptions of Bell that Setterstrom came in for the fourth quarter and performed well.

Last but not least, you've got Jason Smith, the second highest paid OT in the NFL right now. Smith has performed really well so far this season, for a rookie, but it's clear he's going to be a franchise cornerstone. (as and aside, do you agree with Bernie Miklasz's contention that the coaches did Smith a disservice by not starting him in camp?)

Together, those three represent $66 million in guaranteed money, a nice chuck of change. Those are the building blocks for the Rams, and any success next season is predicated on having the OL in place and working like a well-oiled machine.