As has been the case for the past couple of seasons, the Rams will enter 2014 with one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. But don’t let that moniker fool you -- this team also has a wealth of experience to draw upon for the upcoming season.
Take the defensive line, for instance. All four projected starters -- Chris Long, Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers, and Robert Quinn -- are under the age of 30. And of those four, Brockers has the fewest starts at 28 games. That number means that the defensive tackle already has started nearly two full seasons worth of contests, and he doesn’t turn 24 until late December.
Something similar can be said about Quinn. In just three seasons, Quinn has made himself into one of the elite pass rushers in all of football -- the best defensive end in the league, if you ask his teammate Long. And given that Quinn turned 24 in May, there is plenty of reason to believe that he hasn’t nearly hit his prime.
The linebacking corps has an alike composition of experienced youth. Alec Ogletree was a rookie last year, but gained invaluable experience starting every game, amassing 95 tackles, and forcing six fumbles. He played beside James Laurinaitis, who leads the defense from his spot as middle linebacker -- a positioned he’s manned for five years. The Ohio State product turns only 28 in December, but has started all 80 games since he was drafted in the second round in 2009. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, projected to start at right linebacker, turned 29 in March, and has been in the league since 2008.
To expand this to a larger view of the roster, the Rams generally will not rely on rookies at key spots. That is not to say that the first-years will not contribute -- of course they will. But if you look at the projected starters for the majority of St. Louis’ key positions, those players may be young, but they have played their fair share in the NFL.
It seems hard to believe because of the impact he’s had on the league, but Kenny Britt -- one of the Rams’ projected starting wide receivers -- will turn just 26 in a couple of weeks. He’s been in the league since 2009, playing in 57 games for the Titans before signing with the Rams in free agency over the offseason. Wideout Brian Quick turned 25 in June and has two years in the league. And one of last year’s electrifying rookies, Tavon Austin, just turned 23 in March, making wide receiver another position of strength from a standpoint of experienced youth.
Running back is one of the youngest positions on the roster, but, again, these players have had their share of playing time. Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham are 23 and 24, respectively, and both made their marks last year with strong rookie seasons. Adding Tre Mason, one of the team’s youngest players at 21, and Trey Watts, 23, to the squad has the potential to create one of the more talented units of young backs in the league.
One place where youth may be tested early is at cornerback. With Trumaine Johnson sidelined with a knee injury for four-to-six weeks, head coach Jeff Fisher has said that Brandon McGee, who is in his second year, and rookies Lamarcus Joyner and E.J. Gaines are candidates to fill in. Each of the three players has shown an ability to make plays, though, and should be able to hold his own once the season starts.
As presently constructed, the Rams have only three players over the age of 30, all of whom figure to be major contributors to the offense. Center Scott Wells turned 33 in January, guard Davin Joseph will turn 32 in November, and starting quarterback Shaun Hill turned 34 in January.
The offensive line is one of St. Louis’ oldest units, with Jake Long at age 29, Rodger Saffold at 26, and Joe Barksdale at 25. And, of course, first-round pick Greg Robinson figures to be a major contributor to the unit as well, infusing some youth in the process. That the unit is considered “older” for the Rams says a lot about the way the front office assembled the team.
So when you look at the numbers and see the Rams are young, there’s no need to be concerned. In fact, it’s an asset to have a young team that can grow together. As Fisher said in his Saturday press conference, the fact that St. Louis is releasing draft picks means that the teams is getting better. So when it comes to this season, Rams fans, just remember that age is nothing but a number.