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Is Ryan Wendell the most important part on the Rams offensive line?

L.A. hires 37 year-old with only four years of coaching experience

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
Ryan Wendell takes over the Rams offensive line
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

After the Los Angeles Rams offensive line debacle last season and the 5-12 record that ensued, it came as no surprise when Head Coach Sean McVay decided to replace Kevin Carberry as offensive line coach. The surprise came when L.A. announced the hiring of Ryan Wendell for the role, a 37 year-old with four seasons as an NFL coach. Actually, four total seasons in coaching.

Wendell played for nine NFL seasons and retired after the 2016 season. He spent two years away from the pro game before starting his coaching career as an offensive assistant with the Buffalo Bills in 2019. He was elevated to assistant line coach in 2020 and remained in that role until the Rams lured him away. Wendell played under legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and cut his coaching teeth under Bobby Johnson and Aaron Kromer. Yes, that Aaron Kromer, the Rams former offensive line leader who came to L.A. with Sean McVay in 2017 and was pushed out after 2020 season.

Integrating those three different personalities and styles into his own philosophy is Wendell’s task. All three of his mentors have one thing in common, they demand aggressive, physical linemen. Scarneccia was a drill sergeant, working relentlessly on technique and preaching a full, physical effort to get the unit working in cohesion. When it didn’t happen, he thought nothing of equally chewing ass on UDFA’s or high-priced stars. Johnson began his career as a tight ends coach and is known for pass blocking acumen. His run game philosophy is simple, move the defender, whether it’s backwards off the line of scrimmage on inside runs or horizontal displacement on wide runs. Kromer is a footwork fanatic, getting linemen into position to turn, seal, and drive defenders. He also teaches aggressive hand work (chops on defenders reach) to counter length and gain the control edge. In the pass game, he likes the offensive line to aggressively take on speed rushers at the point of attack rather than back into protection or rely on slide steps, giving athletic rushers less room to use their speed.

What will Wendell’s influence be?

Fans should expect a different style of offensive line play, with Wendell’s background, physicality should be the calling card. The Rams braintrust seemed to tip this off with their draft strategy, selecting two tough, hard-nosed players. Both can create movement, Steve Avila with mass and power and Warren McClendon with his footwork and hand use. Even the UDFAs were more about power than finesse.

With Wendell’s background as a UDFA that faced long odds and earned his way into a starting position, hard work and effort should be in large supply. But the truth is, this is his first season leading a unit and how he relates in that leadership role will remain to be played out. It would appear that in the background of his ascent, he was around coaches who wanted the best performers to see the field, no matter their draft pedigree or veteran/salary status.

The Rams do have a lot of linemen with starting experience and the versatility to move up and down the line. Wendell must sort it all out and decide who are the best five, and get them working together as a unit. Having the whole line seeing the game through the same set of eyes is what all his mentors strived for. Tough decisions may have to be made, veterans, particularly those with injury backgrounds, may have to take a back seat. OTAs are the wrong place to try and project who’s in and out, but when camp starts, those first five in workouts are likely entrenched.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-OTA
Round 2 draft pick Steve Avila brings size and power to Rams offensive line
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The status of the Rams current offensive line

While no one could predict the injury cluster that would beset the 2022 Rams, reactionary changes to a 5-12 record were inevitable. The domino effect signs began to appear soon after L.A. reached the NFL pinnacle and won Super Bowl LVI. Cornerstone left tackle Andrew Whitworth hung up his cleats, guard Austin Corbett bolted to the Carolina Panthers for a free agent payday, the contracts of oft-injured Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom were extended and finally, top draft pick Logan Bruss was lost for the season early in preseason.

According to Football Outsiders, the Rams used 14 different linemen in 13 different lineups. Their longest stretch of the same lineup of Ty Nsekhe, Matt Skura, Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton and Rob Havenstein was three games, from Week 13 through Week 15. Nsekhe and Skura are no longer in the NFL. How important is continuity? In the McVay years, the Rams have finished 1st, 1st, 12th, 2nd, 7th, and 32nd in offensive line continuity. Their record when in the Top 10 of this stat category is 46-15 against 14-29 when not.

The Rams have nine returning linemen and seven of those, Allen, Tremayne Anchrum, AJ Arcuri, Havenstein, Alaric Jackson, Noteboom, and Shelton have NFL starts. Logan Bruss missed the whole season with a knee injury and Zachary Thomas was a late season practice squad poach from the Chicago Bears.

Going back to Wendell’s playing days

Back in 2008, Wendell was signed as an undrafted free agent center/guard out of Fresno State by the New England Patriots and spent his rookie year on the practice squad. It was more of the same in 2009, until being added to roster for the final three games of the season. In 2010 and 2011, he stuck on the opening roster, was a special teams stalwart, and earned five starts. From 2012 through 2014, Wendell won starting roles and played in 3400+ offensive snaps and was the starting center for Patriots 2014 Super Bowl winning squad

He was voted a team captain in 2015, but suffered a mystery illness that started him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) List and shelved him for the first five games. I could find no official reports on what the malaise was, just that it was a personal medical problem. He also reportedly had a knee injury later in the season. Whatever happened, it effectively ended his career. Late in 2016, he signed with Carolina Panthers, but was only active in one game and logged one special teams snap.

New England Patriots v New York Jets
New Rams offensive line coach Ryan Wendell won a Super Bowl ring in 2014 with New England
Photo by Jerome Davis/Getty Images


Although inexperienced as an NFL coach, Wendell has parlayed the climb-up from-the-bottom grit and work ethic from his playing days into a top assistant coach’s role on one of the NFL’s highest profile offenses. His mentors all have successful pedigrees and he must have impressed the Rams with what he has absorbed from them in the past and how he plans to apply it in the future.

As far as on-field production, it wouldn’t take much to show an improvement over last years effort. With so many fans and experts thinking this is a rebuild/reset year and L.A. will struggle, even an incremental upgrade like having the youngsters show consistent improvement from Day 1 throughout the season shouldl be considered a win.

I don’t agree with that narrative. The Rams have the quarterback, weapons and scheme to score points. If the offensive line gets back to its Top 10 past the offense will be formidable and score points. And by Top 10, I mean season-long lineup continuity, not subjective media pundit ratings.

Identifying, installing and somehow keeping the health of the line is the key to any Rams 2023 success and why I think that Ryan Wendell is the most important part on the L.A. offensive line.