In his Monday press conference, Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher alluded to some potential changes on the offensive line following Week 11’s dispiriting home loss to the Miami Dolphins:
We have to overcome the individual mistakes – you can’t jump offsides on the first play of the game, you can’t have a false start when you have second-and-five and you have got good field position. It’s those things that are hurting us and those guys have to understand. There potentially may be some different guys playing this week.
We’re looking at everything right now. We need production, we need to minimize mistakes, we’ve got some repeat mistake-makers. That’s still under discussion.
Before we think of some potential movement among the line personnel, let’s look at the starting five:
LT Greg Robinson
Robinson has disappointed since his lofty draft status in 2014. It’s worth reminding that the Rams initially plugged him in at guard. He played on the inside in his rookie season from rookie minicamp through training camp and the preseason and even into his early NFL action. It wasn’t until Jake Long tore his ACL in Week 8 that Robinson moved over to the left tackle spot.
Now in Year 3, Robinson has yet to blossom into a reliable tackle in either the run or pass game. Given that he is the most penalized player in the entire NFL since Week 1 of 2015, it’s fair to question if we’ve passed the point of which Robinson should be the unquestioned starter at protecting the blind side of the Rams’ QB (whomever that has been or will be).
Contract situation: Robinson is still on his four-year rookie deal through next season.
LG Rodger Saffold
Saffold is the longest-serving Ram on the entire roster, a second-round pick from the 2010 NFL Draft.
Initially, Saffold served as the starting left tackle to allow Jason Smith, another #2 overall tackle he from the 2009 NFL Draft, to play on the right side. In 2013, with the addition of Long, Saffold moved over to the right tackle spot before kicking inside a year later bouncing between left and right guard. Heading toward 2015, Saffold was inside at left guard with rookies OT Rob Havenstein and G Jamon Brown taking the right side of the line. After all of the 2015 tune-up, Brown and Saffold flipped; Saffold remained at right guard. This season, he returned to the left side.
Any discussion of Saffold’s career has to acknowledge his lengthy injury history. It is...lengthy.
Contract situation: Saffold re-signed in 2014 through the 2018 season on a five-year deal after initially exiting via free agency to Oakland. Their medical check on his shoulder revealed less than satisfactory results nullifying the deal and the Rams brought him back in house.
C Tim Barnes
Barnes was an undrafted free agent who passed through the 2011 NFL Draft before signing with the Baltimore Ravens. He didn’t make their initial 53-man, so the Rams scooped him on their practice squad. His ascension to the starting five after a three-way battle in the 2015 preseason is the kind of story that drives practice squad members.
Contract situation: The Rams locked Barnes on a two-year deal earlier this spring.
RG Cody Wichmann (& Jamon Brown?)
This one’s kind of strange.
The Rams drafted Jamon Brown in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft as part of the Great Offensive Line Remaking of 2015 and helped him glide into a starting role in Week 1, albeit on the left side after grooming him at right guard. Brown was injured in Week 10 last season.
Wichmann, for his part, was injured early in the 2015 offseason and placed on the PUP. Injuries throughout the season opened the way for him to pick up playing time.
This season, though, it was a bit surprising to see Wichmann quietly take the starting gig away from Brown.
Brown was listed on the injury report in Weeks 7 and 9 (Week 8 was the bye) after injuring his hand in the lead up to the game in London against the Giants.
Contract situation: Wichmann and Brown are both on their rookie deals through the 2018 season.
RT Rob Havenstein
A second-year second-rounder who was the only offensive tackle in the NFL to start 12 or more games in 2015 without giving up a sack.
I think the question is either (a) if he’s versatile enough to play another position or (b) if you’d even risk the chance of losing his play quality with a position switch.
That being the current lineup (with the Wichmann/Brown issue unsettled), here’s the three likeliest changes on the O-line for Sunday.
1.) Promote Andrew Donnal to starting LT over Robinson
Donnal, the Rams’ fourth-round selection in last year’s offensive line overhaul, started twice last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 11 in Baltimore. He’s seen rare playtime in 2016, but this would allow for a direct substitution without disturbing the rest of the starting unit.
2.) Move Rodger Saffold to starting LT over Robinson; promote Brown to starting LG
Brown hasn’t been on the injury report since the Carolina game in Week 9. His history at guard plus Saffold’s make this a fair move to endorse as well. I just wonder if Wichmann has supplanted Brown at RG if there’s something in Brown’s game that the staff is seeing that they’re hesitant to play him with.
Anything else doesn’t make any hot damn sense, though to be fair that can be said about quite a bit of the Rams’ personnel approach the last two seasons.
The only two names I haven’t mentioned are rookie UDFA OT Pace Murphy and second-year backup C Demetrius Rhaney. Neither has played an offensive snap this season.
Benching anyone before Greg Robinson? Yeah, that’d be nuts.
Moving GRob inside? Not sure why he’d be better than who we have now or how that disruption would lead to improved chemistry.
Moving Rob Havenstein from right tackle to left? You’d be taking arguably the best component of the line and tinkering with it. If it ain’t broke...
So yeah. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense and maybe I just talked myself into it therefore becoming the most likely option.
In any case, stay tuned. The Rams get their first practice in today, so we may get the personnel switch (if indeed there is one) reported later today.