Colts President Bill Polian pointed to several factors in the Colts' Super Bowl loss to the Saints, one of which was the offensive line. Polian said that, in his opinion, the line didn't play well by their usual standards and were handled too easily by the Saints front seven. Personally, I thought the Colts line was doing alright and seemed to run well early in the game. But I'm not here to talk about the Colts offensive line; I thought this was a nice segue into a conversation about the St. Louis Rams offensive line.
There are two big questions facing Spagnuolo as he and his coaches pencil figure out the starting five and the rest of the roster spots for the o-line.
First and most pressing is the situation at offensive tackle. Jason Smith, last year's first round pick, second overall, was cleared to play prior to week 17 last season. However, because he missed the previous five games with a concussion, he was not ready to play in the season finale. He will start next season, after showing great strides from his camp to his starting duty during the regular season. The question is which side will he start on? That hinges on the fate of Alex Barron.
If the league salary cap is in place for 2010, Barron will be an unrestricted free agent, and many assume that the Rams would part ways rather than pony up big dollars for the penalty prone OT. However, it is increasingly unlikely that there will be no cap in 2010, which means Barron will be a restricted free agent and relatively affordable for the Rams to obtain. And obtaining him makes sense, partly because of the money, but more so, in my opinion, because keeping him one more season gives the Rams one less need to fill during the offseason. We've made the case for this before. Barron's a league average OT, with his penalties being his biggest liability. If he does come back, I would like to see him forced to compete for a starting job...on the right side.
Barron and Smith are both good run blockers, but Barron's occasional lapses outweigh the risk of Smith's sophomore learning curve on the left side. Besides, Smith was drafted to be the left tackle of the future, and there's no better time to start the future than the present. That doesn't mean the coaches shouldn't evaluate their options carefully in camp.
Now, who would Barron compete with for a starting role on the right side? The Rams need to add a solid OT to the roster for next season, at the very least as a backup. I like Goldberg, but I don't think he's adequate as an OT for a long stretch of time. Whether that happens in the draft or free agency remains to be seen. Take a look at this list of free agents, which assumes a no-cap season. Pretty sparse group thanks to the RFA rules. There are a few older veterans available as UFAs, which would be an option for the Rams given the situation with Barron.
Now, about that guard spot, specifically, the right guard spot? NachoD mentioned hot prospect Mike Iupati in his fanpost this a.m., but Iupati looks to be first round pick. However, the Rams have some solid in-house candidates to fill Richie Incognito's old spot. I submit for your consideration Adam Goldberg and John Greco. Goldberg proved himself to be a solid starter during the season while filling in at G. Greco has shown some ability with his few cups of coffee too, though he hasn't had much time to work with the starting OL and form that cohesiveness required of effective OLs. There's also Mark Setterstrom, who will be a RFA as well. Setts has proven himself well in the past. These three are all capable of making for an interesting competition next August. This is probably the best route for the Rams given their vast needs and firm spot among the league's lowest revenue generators.
All told, I think the Rams are in a much better position with regards to their offensive line than they have been for some time. The issue now is finding solid backups, particularly an offensive tackle, and getting the unit together on the field to develop consistency and cohesion.