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Line Dancing: Rams Reshuffle O-Line

Discussion in 'RAMS - NFL TALK' started by -X-, Nov 23, 2011.

  1. -X- I'm the dude, man.

    Jun 20, 2010
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    Nick Wagoner
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    With injuries mounting on the offensive line, particularly at the tackle position, the Rams find themselves searching for the best combination to deploy this week against Arizona.

    “We are trying to find the right five here,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “That’s part of it. We’ll get it figure out by Sunday. We’ve got some guys that have played tackle. In this league you have got guys who can play more than one spot.”

    After losing left tackle Rodger Saffold for the rest of the season because of a torn pectoral muscle late last week and having played without right tackle Jason Smith for the bulk of the past five games because of a concussion, the Rams simply plugged in their backups.

    But backup left tackle Mark LeVoir suffered a pectoral injury of his own last week, leaving Kevin Hughes – called up from the practice squad only 24 hours earlier – to step in.

    The Rams added tackle Thomas Welch from Buffalo’s practice squad on Tuesday, leaving them with seven healthy options to fill the five positions.

    Now, the Rams are spending this week mixing and matching those seven players and searching for the balance between having the five best linemen and not displacing too many players.

    “That’s part of the equation, no question about it,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I don’t think there’s any easy way to go about doing that because no matter what you choose to start the game with you are always one injury away from shuffling more anyway. So we are going to try to practice the guys we have healthy out here this week, we’re going to give all of them reps at the positions that they play. We’re going to ask some other guys to do multiple things because we have to. We are at that point now where you are going to potentially have to play a guard at tackle, potentially play a center at guard, swing guys left and right. And if something does happen in the game, there’s no question there’s going to be come moving parts and pieces within the four quarters then too.”

    That’s why the Rams have always placed a priority on having offensive linemen who are versatile, particularly the backups so they can fill in at a variety of positions. That versatility isn’t limited to the backups who have filled in like Adam Goldberg and Tony Wragge, though.

    Starting guards Harvey Dahl and Jacob Bell also have experience playing outside at tackle and center Jason Brown has an even longer resume playing guard.

    That creates a multitude of options for the Rams as they figure out which group to go with against the Cardinals.
    “Yeah, obviously it’s a little bit different,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Having the same group of guys in there all the time would be nice. So we are going to have to make a couple of adjustments but I have got full confidence in everyone that whoever is playing is going to do a good job.”

    Dahl spent the majority of his first two seasons in the league with San Francisco working at tackle. Although he was mostly limited to some goal line and special teams situations, he practice outside and has some experience working there.

    In addition, Dahl spent time at right tackle for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe back in 2006.

    Bell has his share of repetitions at tackle as well, starting three games for the Titans at right tackle as well as 15 games combined at both tackle spots at the University of Miami-Ohio.

    Brown started 29 games for Baltimore at guard before converting full time to center in 2008. He started all 16 games at guard in 2007.

    Wragge, who has played all positions on the line and has started the past two weeks at center, also has experience bouncing around.

    And Goldberg, the human Swiss Army Knife of the line, also has played all over the place after spending the past couple of weeks at his preferred right tackle spot.

    No matter how things shake out come Sunday, Bell says it is important for everybody to get on the same page pre-snap to eliminate miscues once the play begins.

    “I think obviously playing together helps but when it comes down to it you are really doing the same stuff you have already been doing,” Bell said. “It’s just a matter of going out, playing together, making sure everybody is on the same page with calls and things before you start the play so you don’t make anything worse than it could be.”

    The lack of continuity might be the biggest obstacle for a group that figures to be without at least two of the players that started at the beginning of the season and will almost certainly have at least one player displaced from his most natural position.

    “That’s hard,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the one position, that and secondary, in football that needs to find some continuity throughout the year and tends to get better and better. That’s been a struggle for us in both of those spots this year.”

    There are some options in terms of ways to help out the line according to McDaniels. Adding extra tight ends on the outside to form double teams as well as chip blocking with running backs are options the Rams will surely use again this week.

    It’s also possible to simplify the offense so that there isn’t as much thinking or communication necessary.

    “There are a lot of ways to think about that,” McDaniels said. “If you become predictable that can be a bad thing. If you try to do too much scheme that can also be a bad thing. I think the best thing we can try to do is find that happy medium between outscheming ourselves and outscheming the opponent. Certainly you want to give our guys a great chance to be successful by giving them some things that you feel like give us a schematic advantage but at the same time, you’ve got to play fast every week. There’s no team that has a chance to play well if you’re not playing fast or playing slow in this league. We are going to try to do the best combination of both that we can.”

    As one of the few mainstays on the offensive line in good health, Bell says he needs to find a way to step up and do some things to help lift up his teammates.

    “I can play really well,” Bell said. “That’s what I have got to concentrate on. Sometimes, I’ll have had a little room for error on a couple plays that might not go my way but I want to play perfect. I want to play better than I have ever played. I have got to pick up the slack. One of the things you can do is before the play starts be sure you are communicating because when guys aren’t where they are used to being and things are flip flopped, things like that communication is a big deal.”

    After Wednesday’s practice, it was no coincidence that the offense spent some extra time working on things after practice as it continues to try to hit the right note with the offensive line.

    The tinkering and moving around will likely continue all week but no matter how it all shakes out, the job that has to be done in protecting Bradford and opening holes for running back Steven Jackson remains the same.

    “They have accepted the challenge and burden that we have,” McDaniels said. “That’s normal. Every team goes through it. We have got to deal with it well this week.”
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