When the league announced that right guard Jamon Brown had been suspended for Los Angeles' first two games of the regular season, there was one clear candidate to replace him.
Offensive lineman Austin Blythe has been with the Rams since the 2017 offseason program when the club claimed him off waivers from the Colts. He appeared in a few games last season, successfully subbing in as a center or guard when needed.
Brown still took the vast majority of reps at right guard during training camp — indicating that he'll reclaim that starting role once his suspension ends in Week 3 — Blythe will be the man between center John Sullivan and right tackle Rob Havenstien on the Rams' offensive line until that time.
Head coach Sean McVay indicated as much in somewhat of an offhand way on Sunday, when he mentioned Los Angeles is "expecting Austin Blythe to step in and do a great job at that right guard spot." And the Rams' unofficial depth chart — released on Wednesday — seemed to confirm that, as it has Blythe listed as the starting right guard with no one behind him s a backup.
Prior to Thursday's practice, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said the Rams "have the ultimate confidence in Austin Blythe."
Why is that?
"When he's had to fill in in the past, it's been at guard. He's been training at center and he's been doing a good job training in a multi-position situation where he's left guard, center and right guard," Kromer said. "This is going to give him the opportunity to play at right guard and we expect a lot of good things out of Austin. We think he can run and pass protect."
Blythe has started two games in his career — one as a rookie for the Colts back in 2016, and then the Week 17 contest against the 49ers last year. Plus, Blythe was often practicing with the first-team offensive line early in the week in 2017 because Los Angeles would rest the veteran Sullivan to keep him fresh for gameday.
Blythe and Havenstein both said that work has made the transition fairly seamless.
"I think that helps a lot," Blythe said. "I can slow myself down at guard knowing what I'm supposed to do before John even says the idea and stuff like that. So being able to learn from those guys and take those reps was huge for me in my development."
"It's not like he's a brand-new guy. So, obviously, the comfort is there," Havenstein said. "Plus, the fact that he has played center, too, so he knows what all the calls are and everything like that. So he's a guy you can really rely on. So I think that's a testament to him. He's done a great job this year of evolving his game, and I think it's really going to show."
In a recent interview with therams.com, Kromer credited Sullivan for taking Blythe under his wing and teaching Blythe the nuances of the game. According to Kromer, that veteran mentorship helped to advance Blythe's game in a short amount of time.
And then there's the skillset and technique that Blythe has displayed over the course of his time with the Rams. Kromer says that is what sets Blythe apart.
"Austin's extremely quick, and for a guy that's not 330 pounds, he has a lot of power and leverage," Kromer told therams.com. "And you wouldn't consider him powerful until you watch him play, and watch him use his leverage to his advantage, and get under players, and be able to control bigger guys that just seeing him, you wouldn't think he'd be able to do. But he has the combination of quickness, smarts, and strength."
While Los Angeles' first-team offensive line did not receive any snaps during the preseason, Kromer said the Rams have created stressful conditions in practice to get the unit to jell with Blythe in place.
"What we've done in practice is this, we've amped up the volume to a point where it's louder than most stadiums — where we can't hear the call next to us and we can't communicate verbally, but we can communicate visually," Kromer said Thursday. "I think with all that work that we are hardened to a point like we've played in games due to the practice style that we've had."
All that adds up to Blythe feeling like he'll be able to excel at right guard starting with the Week 1 contest in Oakland.
"I feel really good, really confident," Blythe said. "I think it's a testament to coach Kromer and the guys in the room. I just feel prepared. I feel confident in my abilities, the techniques that we're taught. And I'm really excited for Monday night.