Offensive Line Coming Together

Posted Aug 29, 2011

There is – perhaps – no area in football where continuity and chemistry is more important than on the offensive line.

So it stands to reason that missing an entire offseason of work together would make things particularly difficult for a group to get its act together in time to be successful in the early part of the regular season.

Here in St. Louis, though, it seems that the Rams have together a group of linemen that are well ahead of the curve just three games into the preseason and with the opener against Philadelphia less than two weeks away.

“I think (the chemistry) is better than expected,” left tackle Rodger Saffold said. “With so much uncertainty and all of the stuff going on in the offseason, being able to have success at all – because around the league it’s harder for offensive linemen to get in that rhythm without having that offseason program and time to jell together before we actually get started with camp. I am definitely happy with where we are and I think what we are doing is going to continue and we’ll become a good group.”

The group got off to a solid enough start in the preseason opener against Indianapolis, opening big holes in the running game and allowing quarterback Sam Bradford plenty of time to throw. But it regressed in week two against Tennessee as it struggled to get the running game going and Bradford came under fire on multiple occasions.

Frustrated by that performance, each lineman took it personally. Preseason or not, they viewed those struggles as unacceptable and challenged themselves to come back with a vengeance against Kansas City last week.

Buoyed by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ plan to come out and simply run it over and over again right at the Chiefs, the line set the tone early and the Rams offense took off.

“Those guys are playing awesome right now,” Bradford said. “I thought they did a great job. What we were able to do on the first two drives, running the ball like we were and when we did throw it; I had all the time in the world. When those guys play like that up front, it makes my job a lot easier.”

The strong showing against a heretofore solid Chiefs starting defense begs the question of just how the Rams’ group has coalesced so quickly.

To answer that, one need only look at how they approached an offseason that was shut down by the lockout and further examine the concept of continuity, a word that could hardly be used to describe the team’s offensive line before the 2010 season.

With no organized workouts at the Russell Training Center, the linemen gathered at Emerge Fitness in St. Charles, working with trainer Matt Pirtle.

There, the group was able to hang out and further strengthen bonds that began forming last year. Center Jason Brown, left guard Jacob Bell, swing man Adam Goldberg and the bulk of their linemates attended.

“As an offensive line, we have to operate as one,” Brown said. “There are so many things we are doing out there where we have to work in unison. So we have to know not only each others personalities on the field but off the field as well. That’s just as important when it comes to our chemistry.”

Maybe more important, though, is having a group of guys that has played many snaps together. Last year, the Rams – for the first time in a long time – had a group of five linemen than answered the bell and played nearly every week.

Save for one game missed by right tackle Jason Smith, the Rams’ starting five on opening day was the same as the starting five on the final day. The lack of any serious injuries then and now in the preseason has allowed the group to work together regularly.

In fact, the only change has been adding mauler Harvey Dahl at right guard. He’s integrated almost seamlessly into the offense in part because of the stability around him.

“Fortunately we have had limited injuries,” Brown said. “It’s been a speedy process as far as getting to know all of the guys. Of course, everyone knows Harvey Dahl and he’s what everyone thought. He’s exactly what we are looking for: the aggressiveness, the attitude that he brings with his play complements every single one of us.”

In addition to the lost time just building camaraderie, it also was logical to assume that the change in offense with McDaniels in place would make the process a bit more difficult.

But Brown says some of the tweaks McDaniels has made to their responsibilities have been something that’s actually allowed for the offensive line to focus on doing the basics of what is required of an offensive lineman.

For example, McDaniels has asked Bradford to take over the line calls from Brown, including the job of locating and pointing out who the MIC linebacker is at the line of scrimmage.

“One of the things that Josh McDaniels has done with our offense is allowed the offensive line to simply line up and play ball,” Brown said. “That takes a lot of pressure off the offensive line. That allows us to be in a better position where we can get the best plays run as possible. I can just focus on teeing off and hitting the guy in front of me as hard as I can. That’s what I love to do.”

In other words, there’s more emphasis on the fundamental jobs of being a lineman.

“As an offensive line, you want to run the ball effectively and keep the quarterback clean,” Smith said. “That’s one of those things we hang our hats on. It’s our job to make sure we are very, very good at doing that.”

For all of the talk of chemistry and continuity, there’s one other “C” word that the Rams offensive line is hoping to develop before the regular season begins: consistency.

Sure, the line rebounded well from a tough night against Tennessee last week against the Chiefs but the idea is to get to a point where there’s nothing to bounce back from.

“We want to constantly stay right here, not get too high or too low,” Saffold said. “We want to work to get ourselves in the best position possible. If that means we run the ball 50 times in a game or throw the ball 50 times in a game, we’ll do it. As long as everybody is being aggressive, technique sound and not missing assignments, we’ll be just fine.”