It’s hard not to overreact when it comes to preseason football. For many fans, this is the first time players are seen in action before the regular season. It’s human nature to believe and put stock into what you’re seeing. If something doesn’t look right in the preseason, it’s only natural to believe that it needs fixed before Week 1. That will likely be the case if the Los Angeles Rams offensive line doesn’t perform well on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
For some positions on offense and defense, you can blame a vanilla preseason scheme and backups for lackluster performances. However, for the offensive line, the goal is simple — block. Outside of Rob Havenstein, the Rams will be playing their starting offensive line against the Chargers. No, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp won’t be playing, but this will largely be the starting offense. There won’t be many excuses or any place to hide.
One of the biggest mysteries for the Rams this offseason has been how the offensive line will perform. Well, on Saturday night that question will finally get answered. How well they perform will have a huge impact on the Rams’ success in 2023. Their performance on Saturday won’t necessarily have an impact on the Rams’ success in 2023, but this is still a position group that they need to figure out quickly. Saturday’s game will play a huge part in that process.
The issue is, this is still a position group with a lot of questions. There remains no clear answer on who the left tackle or center will be whether it’s Alaric Jackson or Joe Noteboom at tackle and then Coleman Shelton or Brian Allen at center. The Rams drafted a right tackle in Warren McClendon in the fifth-round back in April, but have since moved the right guard that they drafted last year to that same position. That player being Logan Bruss. While Joe Noteboom is competing for the left tackle position, as Sean McVay told the media last week, he is also competing at right guard.
After an injury-riddled 2022 season, the only real addition that the Rams made on the offensive line was drafting Steve Avila with the 36th overall pick. Those same injury-prone players that the Rams started last season remain on the roster and in line for starting roles. This is all while players like Dalton Risner have remained available on the free agent market.
This isn’t to say that the Rams needed to have all of the answers on day one of OTAs or day one of training camp. With that being said, we are a month away from the regular season and three positions are still up in the air. If you’re doing the math, that’s over half of the offensive line.
Throughout the McVay era, the Rams have made it a point to have versatile offensive linemen who who can play multiple positions. While there are benefits to that, it’s hard to wonder whether or not that has clouded the picture when it’s more important than ever for that picture to be clear.
Have you ever tried to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle? There’s always a section of that puzzle that’s all the same color and the pieces generally all have the same shape. After staring at the pieces for hours on end, they all begin to look the same. You might even start to convince yourself that two pieces fit together when they don’t. There’s only one correct way that those pieces fit together.
That’s the current Rams offensive line situation.
They have all of these pieces that generally look the same. Yes, there slight differences, but piece A looks like it belongs next to piece B, but piece C actually fits better next to piece A. The Rams have been staring at these pieces for so long that they’ve seemingly lost the plot.
From the outside it can appear as if the Rams have no idea what they want to do on the offensive line as the preseason is set to begin. After moving Bruss from right guard to right tackle, Noteboom is now competing at right guard. The Rams have almost exclusively used Noteboom on the left side in five years.
There’s something to be said about making your most experienced offensive lineman as flexible as possible. It helps with depth when injuries inevitably occur and gives the quarterback confidence when they come in the game. It’s also easy to say to just get the five best players on the field. At the same time, those five players need to fit together.
It is a tad worrisome that there are still this many question marks with a month to go before the regular season.
Only time will tell whether or not the Rams got the offensive line right this offseason and if these pieces end up fitting together. Until we see it, you can only trust the process. As of right now, it looks like a boggled situation that’s been mishandled and a position group that still has a lot of question marks that need answered.
Contrarily, everything could work out and be just fine. The Rams offensive line could have an “A+” performance on Saturday, putting all of the worries at ease heading into the season.
Did the Rams get it right or will they still have shuffling to do as Week 1 gets closer by the day? Saturday night’s game agains the Chargers will play a big role in determining that answer.