Left Side of Line Takes on New Look

Posted Oct 21, 2012

Facing a Packers team that led the league in sacks, the Rams entered Sunday’s game with a different look on the offensive line for the first time since week 3.

The changes weren’t completely wholesale but certainly gave the Rams something totally different on the left side. With tackle Wayne Hunter, who replaced Rodger Saffold after his knee injury, battling a back injury, Joe Barksdale stepped in to start.

At left guard, it was Shelley Smith’s turn as he replaced Quinn Ojinnaka, who had started the previous four games.

Barksdale and Smith came to the Rams via the waiver wire, with Smith arriving after the final round of cuts in early September and Barksdale coming from Oakland just a couple weeks ago.

Considering the lack of experience for both and the talent the Packers have with their pass rush led by linebacker Clay Matthews, Barksdale and Smith held their own, according to coach Jeff Fisher.

“I thought they played pretty well considering,” Fisher said.  “Joe battled a pretty good pass rusher out there. He battled. It’s easier to watch the personnel at tackle than it is at guard but I thought we ran the ball well over them, away from them and I thought they played pretty well.”

Barksdale’s task might have been much more difficult bearing in mind that he was regularly matched up with Matthews and was still only working his way in after arriving in St. Louis on Sept. 27.

Oakland released Barksdale as it transitioned from a power, man blocking scheme to a more zone-oriented attack. At 6’5, 320 pounds, Barksdale certainly looks the part of the type of lineman Fisher and line coach Paul Boudreau prefer.

With just about three weeks in St. Louis to learn a new offense, Barksdale has tirelessly worked with the coaching staff to get up to speed.

“From the day I touched down, I came to practice that day and they have been feeding me the play book ever since,” Barksdale said. I’m glad they did though because I would have been pretty bad if I hadn’t.”

Smith has had far more time but also has had to make a transition in terms of the blocking approach. He was a former sixth-round pick of Houston in 2010 and spent most of that season on the practice squad.

After a leg injury kept him out the entire 2011 season, Smith was a late cut by the Texans. He’s been working mostly on special teams and appeared in a reserve role for Ojinnaka against Arizona.

But Sunday was Smith’s first NFL start.

“I do feel good about everything,” Smith said. “The coaching staff has done a good job with the guys that are here bringing new guys along. I feel comfortable.

“It was great to get the opportunity. This is what you work for all those days you put in during the offseason, during the season, so I was happy to have it, really excited.”

Smith and Barksdale made the most of their opportunity, particularly in the running game. The Rams rushed for 108 yards on 22 carries, an average of 4.9 yards per attempt with backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson sharing the load.

Some of the Rams’ best runs came to the left side, including a 19-yard run by Jackson in which Smith pulled to the outside and threw a textbook seal block to help spring Jackson.

Likewise, aside from one sack for Matthews, the pair appeared to hold up well in pass protection at first blush.

Depending on Hunter’s injury status, it seems plausible the pair could get another look next week against New England. With center Scott Wells (foot) and tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) still working to come back, the line could undergo another makeover in the near future.

For now, the experience for youngsters like Barksdale and Smith is invaluable.

“It’s been an eye opener,” Barksdale said. “You don’t want to take anything you earn in this league for granted because nothing is given to you. I went out there with that mindset. Yeah, I was a little nervous but you have got to think about the people that are back where you came from. You have to think about your college teammates that didn’t make it to the NFL. You have got to go out there and do it for those people.”

INJURY REPORT: At first glance, Fisher believed the Rams made it out of Sunday’s game without any real injury issues save for a potentially harmful one to defensive end Eugene Sims.

“The only thing we’ve got to concern ourselves with is Eugene,” Fisher said. “So we’ll see how he is.”

Rookie receiver Brian Quick hobbled off the field late in the game after trying to come down with a touchdown catch and landing awkwardly on his side. Fisher said Quick would be OK.

The Rams were without linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh), tackle Rodger Saffold (knee), Hunter (back) and receiver Danny Amendola (shoulder) entering the game.

WAITING FOR REPLAY: The Packers took the Rams by surprise when they opted to go for an onsides kick in the first quarter.

After taking a 7-3 lead, Packers kicker Mason Crosby booted what appeared to be a perfectly executed onsides kick that was recovered by Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore.

The kick appeared to be close to not going the full 10 yards before a Ram touched it and Fisher went looking for a potential replay but never got the look he needed at it.

“I wanted to confirm who touched it first because if they touched the ball inside of the 10-yard restraining line then I can challenge that but I never got a look.”

FAN BATTLE: The Packers are known for having some of the league’s most rabid fans with a huge fanbase and fans more than willing to travel to attend games. Sunday was no different as Packers fans invaded the Edward Jones Dome.

The Rams fans in attendance did outnumber the Packers fans but there was a hotly contested battle between the two sides to see who could make the most noise.

“I’ve experienced that before,” Fisher said. “That’s just a tribute to the Packer organization – the tradition and history of the Packers. They travel well. They do wherever they go. We’d like to get our organization to that point so we travel well as well.”

While Green Bay’s fans were heard, it wasn’t enough to change what the Rams were doing offensively according to Jackson.

“We know that Green Bay travels,” Jackson said. “It didn’t stop us from doing what we wanted to do. We were able to use a snap count because we knew that they’re pretty fast off the ball. We mixed it up.”

RAM BITS: End William Hayes and defensive tackle Michael Brockers picked up their first sacks as Rams on Sunday. Brockers’ was the first of his young career…receiver Austin Pettis picked up his first career touchdown, a 3-yard grab in the waning moments…rookie receiver Chris Givens extended his streak of games with a 50-plus yard catch to four after a 56-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.