Offensive Line Shuffle Continues

Posted Sep 20, 2012

Just three weeks into the 2012 NFL season, the Rams are already growing tired of the same question being asked over and over.

Unfortunately, the question in question has to do with the continued musical chairs the team has had to play on the offensive line as injuries continue to mount.

“Yes, it’s a challenge, but we’ll have them ready to play,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “That’s what you have to do and we’ll see. We’ll be OK.”

Last week, the Rams were hoping for an early return from left tackle Rodger Saffold after he suffered a neck injury in the opener. Guard Rokevious Watkins suffered an ankle injury in that game and center Scott Wells had a foot injury.

Watkins and Wells have since landed on injured reserve, Wells with the designation that he can return to game action after eight weeks on the list.

Saffold suffered a sprained Medial Collateral Ligament last week against Washington and Fisher said he’d miss at least four weeks.

In other words, when the Rams travel to Chicago this week, they’ll again have to do some line dancing.

“It’s the same thing,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It’s something we had to deal with last year. It’s really nothing new. I have got confidence all of those guys we’ve got right now. I think everyone who has stepped in and had to play last Sunday did a great job. I know whoever is in there this week we’re going to have a great week of preparation and we’ll be ready to play on Sunday.”

After losing Wells and Watkins in week 1, the Rams brought veteran lineman Quinn Ojinnaka back last week. Ojinnaka immediately stepped in at left guard, the position he started all four preseason games before he was a bit of a surprise release in the final round of cuts.

With Ojinnaka back, Robert Turner who started at left guard in the opener, moved to center. It was all a familiar refrain from earlier this year as offensive line coach Paul Boudreau regularly makes it a point to rotate linemen.

“’Bou’ does a real good job of rotating us in OTAs and minicamps and training camp so during a time like this when injuries happen, we are used to playing with different guys and next to different guys,” Ojinnaka said. “So I mean we practice that way so it makes it easier once the game comes.”

This week, the Rams should have just one change to make along the line as opposed to the possible three they had going into last week’s game.

But the position of uncertainty is an important one, perhaps the most important on the offensive line: left tackle.

Wayne Hunter stepped in admirably for Saffold last week when the latter suffered his knee injury that kept him out most of the game.

Hunter hadn’t played on the left side in a long time but said he knocked the rust off in short order.

“Usually the first series, it takes a little bit to get back into it but once you start getting in there it makes it a little bit more of a rhythm,” Hunter said. “I just kind of went with that the rest of the game.”

Complicating matters, though, is the fact that Hunter suffered an ankle injury in the game against the Redskins. He left but re-entered after getting the ankle wrapped. 

“I just wanted to push through,” Hunter said. “I didn’t want to let the team down. I want to make sure I am here for the guys when they need me so that was part of just going back in and making sure I can push through injury.”

Hunter may have to do that again this weekend in Chicago after missing all of Wednesday’s practice and participating on a limited basis Thursday.

Ty Nsekhe, the young tackle the team claimed from Indianapolis after the preseason, has taken repetitions in Hunter’s place this week.

No matter who steps in, the job remains the same.

“In the NFL, injuries happen all the time and O line and D line are probably the most hit positions,” Ojinnaka said. “(Boudreau) does a good job of rotating us so we are prepared for it.”

JACKSON UPDATE: For the second consecutive day, running back Steven Jackson did not practice with a groin injury. That doesn’t mean there’s no chance for him to play this week, though, even if he doesn’t practice tomorrow.

“I don’t have a policy where you have to practice to play,” Fisher said. “Be realistic. He’s been in the league how many years? He knows his body, he knows this offense, I’m not concerned about that.”

Jackson remained hopeful that he’d be able to play come Sunday but didn’t want to rush into anything.

“I’ve played through worse injuries before,” Jackson said. “But we’ve still got to take it day to day.”

For more on Jackson’s situation, check out the From the Sidelines Blog.

RESPONDING TO GRIFFIN: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III had a long day at the office against the Rams as the defense got a number of good hits on him when he took off to run.

There was plenty of chippiness going both ways in the game but when asked about the game this week; Griffin didn’t believe the Rams stayed in the gray area between aggressive and illegal, calling some of the hits he took “cheap.”

On Thursday, Fisher and Jackson responded to Griffin’s allegations in similar fashion.

“It’s not the Big 12,” Jackson said. “I think we are a team that is hungry and is young and eager to make a turnaround for the franchise.”

Fisher also emphasized that while Griffin is a good player and is going to be a “very good” player, he had better get accustomed to a more physical game before pointing out that he has bigger fish to fry than to worry about a game that’s now in the rearview.

“We are going to play aggressive,” Fisher said. “And we’re going to play hard, to the whistle and that’s it. This is the National Football League…I’m more concerned about the Bears.”

FAMILY TIES: Fullback and special teams captain Brit Miller grew up in Decatur, Ill., just a couple hours south of Chicago in a family that rooted for the Bears.

In fact, Miller’s father put his name on the wait list for season tickets when Miller was born and got the tickets 16 years later.

Miller eventually attended some Bears games but said he still can’t get his father to break the family ties to Chicago, despite his current status.
“I still can’t get him to get rid of them,” Miller said. “We don’t play for those guys and I think they have passed on me a couple of times. We’re Rams.”

RAISED EXPECTATIONS?: Coming off last week’s win against Washington, one would think that Fisher might have to temper expectations for his young team.

But Fisher has long maintained that he doesn’t ride the wave of ups and downs that come with coaching in the NFL and he doesn’t want his team to do that, either.

“We expected to win the first one and didn’t, so we take the same approach each week,” Fisher said. “It starts on Wednesday and you have to initialize the game plan and then start to polish things up Thursday and Friday, and we go up and expect to win.”

INJURY REPORT: Joining Jackson as non-participants in Thursday’s practice were safety Matt Daniels (hamstring), defensive tackles Michael Brockers (ankle) and Matt Conrath (knee), left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and fullback Brit Miller (thigh).

Hunter was listed as a limited participant.

For the Bears, running back Matt Forte (ankle) again did not participate. Defensive end Julius Peppers (foot) was upgraded to full participation.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher also did not participate but was just given a day off.