A lot of things contributed to the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive woes last season, but maybe nothing more so than the inconsistent play of the offensive line. Fortunately for the Rams and their fans, they’ve got a new coaching staff who’s chosen to shuffle a few players around, and ultimately let a few others go.
C Tim Barnes wasn’t the answer for the Rams at the position in 2016. Heck, he wasn’t the answer in 2015. But year after year, fans hopeful of hearing one of the nation’s top centers have their name called on draft day - or excited at the prospect of grabbing a stud center in free agency – only felt their excitement wane as Barnes was once again penciled in as the team’s starter.
This year will be different.
The Rams parted ways with Barnes along with C Demetrius Rhaney this offseason leaving a very interesting position battle brewing to see who gets to snap the ball to QB Jared Goff on Sundays.
Familiar with new Rams Head Coach Sean McVay’s system from his time spent in D.C. (2015-2016), Sullivan appears to be the front-runner for the starting job this year.
Prior to his short stint with Washington, he proved to be a very solid center for the Minnesota serving as their starting center between 2009-2014. During that span, Sullivan made 93 starts, missing only three games. In 2012, Sullivan anchored the offensive line that saw RB Adrian Peterson rush for 2,097 yards – eight yards shy of breaking legendary Rams’ RB Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. Sullivan would come up just shy of a Pro Bowl nod that year, but did earn All-Pro honors from the Pro Football Writer’s Association.
Regardless of past success, there will be competition for the starting job for the Rams this year.
While they once again chose not to address the center position in the draft, they did add some talent in undrafted free agency by signing former University of Washington guard Jake Eldrenkamp (roster preview). The Rams will see if he can make a successful transition to center but, as Pro Football Focus notes, Eldrenkamp proved a very sound blocker in his senior year:
The Rams have signed UDFA guard Jake Eldrenkamp, whose college grades compare favorable to the top guards in the 2017 draft. pic.twitter.com/dq6FklLYUp— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 8, 2017
The Rams didn’t stop there though. In early May, they signed Austin Blythe (roster preview) – the former Colts’ center and seventh-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Blythe may not have a lot of NFL experience under his belt, but he did play in eight games his rookie year, starting one.
PFF also fancied him a fine center in his college days:
The Rams claimed center Austin Blythe off waivers from the Colts. He was the third-highest-graded center in college football in 2015. pic.twitter.com/00FIoMI3Dh— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 18, 2017
The expectation, as of now, is that Sullivan would get the nod as the team’s starter. He’s familiar with the offense, and has proven to get the job done in the pros. But that could change at any moment, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, while referencing his durability and dependability with the Vikings, Sullivan suffered a back injury in 2015 causing him to miss the entire season. While in Washington, he served as the team’s backup center in 2016, so it remains to be seen if his body can hold up for a 16-game slate. Football can, you know, take a toll on the body.
And then there’s simply the competition side of it. While Sullivan’s a proven commodity in the NFL, he’ll be 32 years old in August, and he’s competing against much younger, healthier guys. Eldrenkamp turned 23 this past March, and Blythe turned 25 last month.
Sullivan, in my opinion, has the edge based on familiarity with McVay’s system and tenure in the league. But the job isn’t going to be handed to him. And that’s a good thing.
Chances of Making the Final Roster (9.5/10)
The only thing that would prevent Sullivan from making the roster would be his inability to stay healthy. He saw less than 100 offensive snaps in 2016 but held up in a backup role. The Rams have also made it abundantly clear they want veterans who provide leadership in the locker room. It’s safe to say McVay wouldn’t have brought him to Los Angeles if he didn’t think Sullivan checked both boxes.
Making the final roster should prove relatively easy if he can stay on the field. Earning the starting job is another story — and a roster battle worth monitoring during training camp.