Losing your starting center is never ideal for an NFL team. But for the Rams in particular, anytime starter John Sullivan goes down during a game — as he did in Week 7 against Arizona — the transition is made easier because of who takes his place.
Austin Blythe, a former Iowa standout, joined the Rams in May after he was claimed off of waivers from the Colts. Since then he has proven himself as both a capable and dependable player with solid technique.
So far this season, Blythe has had to step in for Sullivan on two occasions — once against the 49ers and most recently against the Cardinals. In both instances, his effort was met with high praise from head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff.
"I thought Austin Blythe stepped in again and did a nice job," McVay said Sunday. "Those guys are getting better and they're getting more comfortable playing together as well."
"Austin again did a great job stepping in," Goff said. "He's done it twice now and his ability to come in there cold and be able to kind of just pick it up on the move and not really hit any speed bumps is really impressive."
Much of that seamless transition stems from Blythe being able to practice with the other starting linemen on Wednesdays. As part of the team's maintenance program, Sullivan is one of a few veteran players held out of practice each week in an effort to keep them healthy come game time. McVay says Wednesday's sessions have "been very helpful, as [Blythe] is able to go through some of the looks that we anticipate."
"Some of those looks came up and I think it helps Austin continue to gain a command on all the communication that's involved from that center spot," McVay said. "I think it's a big reason why he's handled the playing time that he's had this year pretty seamlessly and he's done a great job filling in when John's had to step out."
On Sunday against Arizona, Blythe was instrumental facilitating a lengthy 10-minute drive in the fourth quarter. The series consisted of five converted third downs and culminated in an 18-yard touchdown by wide receiver Cooper Kupp. It also helped drain the clock, all but sealing the Rams' 33-0 shutout victory.
Right guard Jamon Brown praised Blythe's efficiency in Sunday's contest, saying there was "no drop off or decline in the level of communication or the level of play." He also credited Blythe's ability to practice with the starting line as key to his success.
"It's been huge," Brown said. "Having him on Wednesdays and being able to work on things that he would not have necessarily worked [on] if Sully went on Wednesdays has been huge in game time. … Building confidence that we have in him and obviously his confidence — you see that just riding an all-time high."