When the 2018 offseason program began last April, it looked like the Rams would return their same starting offensive line that had helped propel the team to an 11-5 record and an NFC West division title in 2017.
And, really, it looked that way until July, when the league announced former Rams guard Jamon Brown would be suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season.
Nevertheless, for most of training camp, Brown was at his usual spot of right guard, sandwiched between center John Sullivan and right tackle Rob Havenstein.
But as the season got close toward the end of August, L.A. had a decision to make as to who would start in place of Brown for those first two games — Austin Blythe or Joe Noteboom.
With Noteboom a rookie and the ideal heir apparent to left tackle Andrew Whitworth whenever he decides to hang it up, the TCU product wasn't necessarily the ideal candidate.
But Austin Blythe really was. He'd spent the 2017 season with Los Angeles, and practiced with the first-team offensive line throughout the course of the year at center when Sullivan would take a veteran rest day. That prepared him for spot duty with the club's offense, as he filled in admirably in a few contests throughout the year, before starting the Week 17 matchup against San Francisco in which head coach Sean McVay elected to rest most of the team's starters.
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Fast forward to Week 1 of the 2018 season, and Blythe showed he belonged by making key blocks against the Raiders as the Rams began the year 1-0. He kept it up in Week 2, displaying his mettle in Los Angeles' 34-0 shutout victory over the Cardinals.
That's when McVay and run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer made the decision: Blythe would be the starter at right guard going forward.
"With the success we've been having, we want to keep the continuity and I think that has helped out," Kromer said back in September.
Blythe kept the job for the entire year, playing 100 percent of Los Angeles' 1,100 offensive snaps in the 2018 regular season — plus each one in the postseason. It's not the be-all-end-all metric, but Pro Football Focus had him as their No. 12-rated guard and No. 23 overall offensive lineman in 2018.
"Anyone could have had one of the top-25 offensive linemen in the NFL after he was waived by the Colts a year and a half ago. The former seventh-round pick wasn't even supposed to start for the Rams until Jamon Brown got suspended. Blythe never relinquished control of the job and has been reliable ever since," PFF wrote of Blythe.
But speaking to therams.com just after concluding his first season as a full-time starter, Blythe was grateful for his opportunity.
"We had a great season, we played in the Super Bowl — nobody can really take that away from us. But something to take away from the result of the Super Bowl is that we can always keep improving, we can always keep learning as a team and individually," Blythe said. "Myself, I'll never stop trying to improve and I think if my performance in the Super Bowl is anything, it just gives proof that nobody is a perfect player. Just going to continue to keep trying to improve and already looking forward to OTAs and to camp next year."
Blythe said to that point he hadn't watched Super Bowl LIII back — and he wasn't sure if he would in the near future. He wasn't happy with his own play, and, certainly, the game's ultimate result.
The right guard did, however, say that overall he really enjoyed playing football this year for Los Angeles, and it's not something he takes lightly.
"I think especially my rookie year that was my goal just to get back having fun playing football again and just talking to 'Krome', it was just like college again — had a ton of fun with the guys that you're playing with because they are invested in you just like you're invested in them. Just really looking forward to building on that."
There's always turnover in the NFL, and there surely will be for the Rams as they flip from 2018 to 2019. But given the strong chemistry of this past year's club, Blythe believes the Rams can compete next year and into the future.
"I think that's what makes the Rams so special, that everyone is so connected," Blythe said. "I was telling [Kromer] that I enjoyed playing football this year — it wasn't a job, it was a game again — and it was a lot of fun, a lot of fun playing with the guys that we have on the team and unfortunately not everyone is going to be here next year, but hopefully we've got a lot of the same guys back because they are great guys. Like I said, I'm already looking forward to the offseason."
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