Few things have gone through as lengthy, torturous of an evolution as the St. Louis Rams offensive line. Bad personnel moves, injuries and random circumstances have conspired to keep Sam Bradford guessing behind a constant rotation of five guys. But things have finally settled down, except for one spot: left guard.
That spot is up for grabs. And unlike the running backs or wide receivers, a rotation isn't the most likely answer to the question. Chris Williams, a former first-round pick by the Chicago Bears, was manning that spot during Tuesday's OTAs. (You can see a picture of the starting five linemen on the Rams' official site).
The job doesn't officially belong to Williams, not yet. He'll have to compete with a small cell of players to grab the starting spot between Jake Long and Scott Wells.
The Rams grabbed Williams off waivers during the season last year. He was re-signed this year to an incentive-laden, one-year contract. Williams saw the field at both right tackle and right guard last year; 59 of his 88 snaps played were at guard. He has experience from his time in Chicago at left guard too, but injuries and turmoil combined with unmet expectations there, sending him to waiver wire.
Second-year player Rokevious Watkins is Williams' most likely challenger for the left guard job. A fifth-round pick from South Carolina, he had the starting job for awhile last year, taking over late in Week 1 because of an injury to Scott Wells that forced Robert Turner to move to the middle. Unfortunately, Watkins injured himself in practice the week after, ending his season.
Watkins looks like a long shot from the outside. He showed up to training camp overweight, but after some time in a remedial physical training program, he rejoined his team pretty quickly. Head coach Jeff Fisher talks up Watkins at every chance he gets.
"We encouraged him to take some time off," Fisher said at the Combine. "He did. He came back. His rehab's just about complete. His weight is significantly down and he made a commitment to a program early in the offseason to get himself in a position where he can really compete. So I'm pleased with his progress thus far."
He spent some time as South Carolina's left tackle in 2011, but saw more of his playing time as an interior lineman in college. Scouting reports on Watkins coming into the 2012 NFL Draft pegged him more as a finesse player, despite his size. He showed a knack for using his hands and feet pretty well. The Rams need to see a lot more from Watkins, which is probably why Williams is getting the first shot at the left guard job.
Don't rule out Shelley Smith either. He played some 360 snaps and made six starts at guard for the Rams last year. Smith was plucked off the Texans' scrap pile; his career stalled out there because of injuries. Interestingly enough, Smith and Williams platooned the right guard position in Weeks 16 and 17 last year. Smith did a little more work as a pass blocker than Williams.
There is also this year's fourth-round steal, Alabama do-it-all lineman Barrett Jones. He's listed by most as a center; that's where Nick Saban ended up playing him last season to great reward. Of course, he can play and has played all five spots on the offensive line.
Another year, another offseason to determine the shape of the Rams' starting offensive line. We're used to it. The difference this time is that the Rams finally seem to have some young talent with some upside, itching to prove their worth. The line on the field for Week 1 might not be the final, most perfect evolution of the unit, but it should be a much better one.