Swap of Tackles Allows for Fresh Start

Posted Aug 28, 2012

Tackle Wayne Hunter (79) gets a chance to start anew with the Rams after trade for former Ram Jason Smith. (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

With help needed at offensive tackle, the Rams turned to another team in need of help at the same position in an effort to get better on the edge.

So it was that they agreed on a trade with the New York Jets on Monday evening that would send tackle Jason Smith to the Big Apple in exchange for tackle Wayne Hunter.

The trade, according to Rams coach Jeff Fisher, is one that made sense for both sides and, perhaps even more, to the two tackles looking for a chance to revitalize their careers.

“We have been talking to the Jets for a week or so,” Fisher said. “Things started to pick up and we just felt like it was a good deal for both teams and probably a better deal for both players, a fresh start so we went ahead and we were able to put it together yesterday.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the trade was not yet complete as both players need to go through physicals while other I’s need dotting and t’s crossed. Hunter was not present for the Rams practice on Tuesday afternoon. It's expected to become official Wednesday afternoon.

“We still have some things to wrap up,” Fisher said. “Anytime you do this, there are physicals and things like that after to be completed. So we are in the process still.”

In Hunter, the Rams get a tackle who started every game for the Jets last season under then New York offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Should the deal go through, he will bring a strong working knowledge of the system and be able to step in right away as the team’s third tackle behind starters Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson.

Hunter had struggled with a back injury during the Jets training camp and labored in the team’s preseason game against the Giants on Aug. 18. Much like Smith, Hunter was embroiled in a battle for the right tackle job and appeared to be set behind Austin Howard in recent days.

As for Smith, the constant struggle with injuries, including a pair of serious concussions contributed to his never reaching the vast potential that once made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Smith played in just 29 games in three seasons and was ineffective in many of those starts. Upon arriving in St. Louis, Fisher had held out hope that Smith’s career as a Ram could be salvaged by veteran line coach Paul Boudreau.

The Rams reworked Smith’s contract in the spring and gave Smith the chance to work with the starting unit in OTAs and at the outset of training camp. But Smith struggled with his technique and Richardson eventually moved into the role and claimed the job.
“Clearly, I think Barry has won that job because of his experience and I wish Jason the best,” Fisher said. “He did the best he could; he actually really improved this year. I think Coach Boo was a huge impact on him. He played pretty well the other day but I think it’s best we just go a different direction.”

QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Rookie quarterback Austin Davis has been nothing short of precocious in his first NFL training camp.

After another strong performance in the team’s third preseason game, Davis made yet another strong claim to landing a spot on the final 53-man roster. In only a series of action, Davis was four-of-five for 53 yards and rushed twice for 11 yards to lead the Rams on what would have been a game-tying drive in a regular season game.

Through three preseason games, Davis has gone 21-of-30 for 207 yards with no touchdowns and an interception and run four times for 15 yards.

That production has made some wonder whether Davis is not only in line to land a roster spot but perhaps even push Kellen Clemens for the backup job. Clemens is 18-of-25 for 136 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the preseason.

Fisher said Davis isn’t pushing Clemens but did acknowledge that he’s been impressed with Davis.

“I don’t think so,” Fisher said. “Austin’s done a great job. He’s picked up this offense, which is not easy to do in a short time and he’s done a good job. But Kellen’s been in this offense for six or seven years and he has a good sense, a good feel for it.”
WELLS SETTLES IN: Center Scott Wells made his Rams debut against the Cowboys last week and played the bulk of the first quarter before stepping out of the game.

Wells had been recovering from offseason knee cleanup surgery and just returned to practice last week. But having him back in the mix is an instant help for a line in flux.

“It’s his experience,” Fisher said. “He understands things, learned the offense very quickly, makes all the calls and makes them correctly all the time. He anticipates things and he works very closely with the quarterback as he did up there in Green Bay.”

Wells and quarterback Sam Bradford are still working on getting used to one another but they had more of a head start than anyone realized during the team’s training camp walk throughs.

“Scott participated in walk-throughs,” Fisher said. “Inside, he was in every walk-thru so it wasn’t an issue of knowing how to do it it’s just the issue of going out there and doing it full speed.”
Wells is expected to get more time with the first group in the preseason finale Thursday night.

ROOKIE LOOKS?: Fisher said in the lead up to last week’s game at Dallas that he wanted to get his rookie skill position players some time with the first team offense.

Fisher followed through on the running backs as Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead got plenty of reps with the first group. But rookie receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens didn’t get their turn until the second group and Clemens entered the game.

This week, with the starters expected to play into the third quarter, Fisher said there’s more of an opportunity to get a look at Quick and Givens with the first-team offense.

“Yes, there’s a chance I’ll move them up,” Fisher said. “I’d like to see Quick and Givens up there, but they’re all young receivers. You take, for example, Steve Smith’s case. He hasn’t really had an opportunity to work with Sam. We’ll play as many as we can earlier in the game and with the numbers down, they’ll be playing throughout the game.”