Depth Proving to Be Strength of Rams’ Offensive Line

Posted Nov 5, 2013

Nine weeks into the season, the Rams have seen their depth tested at a multitude of positions, though perhaps nowhere more frequently than along the offensive line.

Entering last Sunday, injuries left just 60 percent of the line’s opening-week starting five in place. While undergoing such turnover could leave many teams in offensive turmoil, the Rams’ ‘next man up’ philosophy has instead revealed the team’s depth as a strength.

Last Sunday against Tennessee, third-year guard Shelley Smith became the latest starting member of what has quietly been one of the NFC’s most effective offensive lines over the first nine weeks of the season.

Smith stepped into a starting role following a knee injury to veteran G Harvey Dahl, who left midway through the Rams’ 14-9, Monday night loss to Seattle. Smith is joined by RT Joe Barksdale, who has started the past seven games following a Week 2 knee injury to four-year veteran Rodger Saffold. Now that Saffold has returned, the Rams have elected to employ an offensive line platoon, a system that has paid dividends, particularly in the running game.

Behind the recent work of the offensive line, rookie RB Zac Stacy is off to a standout beginning to his career as a lead back in the NFL. Stacy has exceeded 100 yards in consecutive weeks, including a career-high 134 yards in Week 8 against Seattle. and much of the credit goes to the unit up front.

“When you have an offensive line that’s working very well together – there is some rotation going on and I think that even speaks more for what they’re doing,” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. “Because (G) Shelley’s (Smith) getting to play, (RT) Rodger’s (Saffold) getting to play – but you take the offensive line and the tight ends and in particular (TE) Cory (Harkey) at the fullback spot that’s really been effective and that’s created the holes.”

Some of the credit for Smith’s ability to contribute right away can be traced to the valuable experience gained late last season, when he shared time with current starting left guard Chris Williams.

At the season’s outset, the Rams’ offensive line represented the most veteran contingent of the league’s youngest team. Led by Dahl, C Scott Wells and LT Jake Long, the Rams’ season-opening offensive line averaged more than six years of experience per starter. That group performed well early on, as they did not allow a sack through the season’s first two games, despite QB Sam Bradford attempting 93 passes over that period.

Now with new faces at both the quarterback position and along the offensive line, the Rams’ effectiveness up front has hardly missed a beat.

“Obviously you know that injuries are part of the game,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said prior to last week’s game against Tennessee. “But, if you remember last year, the last four games we rotated (LGs) Chris (Williams) and Shelley (Smith). As guys go and get kind of get nicked up and bumped up, you want to make sure you have guys rolling through at different spots. It’s a credit to them that they’ve been able to do it so well.”