Practice Report 11/24: Rhaney, Wichmann Move into Larger Roles

Posted Nov 24, 2015

With four offensive linemen going down in the last two weeks, Demetrius Rhaney and Cody Wichmann figure to see more time at guard for the Rams.

The injury bug has hit the Rams’ offensive line hard recently, with four men on the unit going down with significant injuries in the last two weeks. Jamon Brown and Darrell Williams were placed on injured reserve following St. Louis’ loss to Chicago, with Rob Havenstein suffering a calf injury in the same contest. And now Andrew Donnal could be out for a few weeks with an MCL sprain sustained against the Ravens.

But with those injuries comes opportunities for younger linemen. Cody Wichmann got his first start last week at guard and Demetrius Rhaney played at guard, too, following Donnal’s injury in the second quarter. Both figure to be on the field when the Rams play Cincinnati this weekend.

In Wichmann’s case, the rookie out of Fresno State has been preparing to play guard for the entire season. He played over 50 games in college at the position, a positive factor for when the Rams grabbed him in the sixth round of the spring draft.

“There were a lot of rookies, lot of young players on this offensive line unit, but we prepared every week like we were going to be in the starting lineup,” Wichmann said.

Rhaney, however, had mainly been working as the club’s backup center since the end of the preseason. Though Rhaney saw some time at guard in the team’s exhibition matchups and practices with the Cowboys, that had come to an end once the roster got down to 53 players.

But according to Rhaney, things changed when Brown went down. Rhaney said head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau made sure he knew he was the next man up, and as such had to be prepared to play both guard and center.

“I just made sure I just got on top of my guard calls and made sure I was ready in case anything happened,” Rhaney said. “And it happened on the first play of the second quarter.”

The pair of offensive linemen both said their results were mixed against Baltimore, though they each said they were glad to get back on the field to play offense.

“We’ve been working all season as the second-string unit to get our shot, and finally getting out there and seeing what we can actually do in a live situation is a weight off the shoulders,” Wichmann said.

Both Wichmann and Rhaney also said there is plenty to work on over the course of this practice week after watching the film.

“Technique here and there -- keeping the feet moving and what not,” Wichmann said. “But you’ve got to use your experiences and build off of those. So I’m just trying to build those experiences.”

Rhaney pointed to technique issues as well as a reason why Baltimore nose tackle Brandon Williams was able to cross his face to penetrate the backfield, disrupting a run play before it ever got started.

“I had a shade and I took too big of a first step and I couldn’t get across, and he beat me across my face,” Rhaney said.

While he’s also on injured reserve after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold has been around the facility and practice, helping the young linemen in any way he can. Prior to speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Rhaney remained on the practice field working with Saffold.

“He stayed back and worked with me on a few technique things -- my steps, and my hands, and my head placement,” Rhaney said.

“Rodger’s great. He’s obviously very experienced,” Wichmann said. “He’s in there all the time with us still. He watches film with us. He’s always around and he’s helping us young guys in more ways than you’d think. Just a great guy to be around.”

The injuries and shifts along the line affect the rest of the offense as well. Running back Todd Gurley said Tuesday he has to adjust to the different playing styles and tendencies of the men blocking for him.

“We’ve got four guys down, so it’s always going to be a tough adjustment with new guys coming in,” Gurley said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve still got to play hard, and execute, and make the calls, and do everything else up front.”

“One lineman might react a lot different, or his reaction time might not be as quick or as fast as the one before,” Gurley added. “But, like I said, everybody’s been doing a great job preparing and putting in the work throughout the week. We’ve just got to come to the game with that.”

Wichmann, Rhaney and the rest of the offensive line will need to play well against a high quality Cincinnati defense this week. The Bengals rank No. 4 in points allowed at 18.6 per game, and are have already racked up 28 sacks, 7.0 of them by defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Both Rhaney and Wichmann are likely to have some matchups against one of the game’s better interior pass rushers.

“He’s similar to Aaron Donald to me,” Rhaney said. “He’s very quick. He’s a little bigger and he’s got longer arms, but to me, he likes to work the inside a lot. So I’m going to make sure I keep a strong post foot this week and get the job done.”

“They’re definitely some good players,” Wichmann said. “They don’t do a whole lot of crazy fronts and what not. They stay to their base defense, but they will hustle to the ball. They’re strong guys and they get around the ball. It’s going to be important to keep going that extra step this week.”

As they continue playing, Fisher expects both Wichmann and Rhaney to show some marked improvement.

“That’s usually the case,” Fisher said. “I think [Wichmann] will learn from the speed of the game, he’ll learn from his mistakes, and he should get better. It’s a tough week to get better against this [Cincinnati] defense, but I expect Cody to improve. Same thing with D.”