No contact, no pads.
Those are the provisions that all NFL teams must follow during the offseason program, and the Rams certainly are in that camp.
But there are certain positions that almost need to have pads in order to be properly evaluated — including the offensive line. The five up front routinely have to use every tool at their disposal in order for plays to be successful. And without pads, that can't entirely happen — which is why defensively linemen often run past quarterbacks in the backfield during OTAs and minicamp.
So what's the best thing to look for in the offensive line during the spring?
"The biggest thing that you're trying to do is, we spend a lot of time as an offensive line in individual drills. So in those periods we will use a shield or a bag or a sled to really reenact or really create that physicality that you need and how you're really going to hit these blocks," run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said at minicamp. "And then when you get to team [drills] you know, you lighten up because of the no pads. So I think you really try to get it during those periods, and then we are continuing some run periods where the guys on defense are using shields so we can use a little more power."
As Kromer put it, really the strong evaluations have to come during training camp and preseason games. That's part of why running back Todd Gurley not participating in the on-field elements of OTAs and minicamp isn't as big of a deal as it could've been.
Kromer pointed to the fact that L.A. wasn't in pads when addressing how much not having Gurley affected the club's preparation for the season.
"We don't have our shoulder pads on, we're not in full pads, and to get the full realm of the run game we can't bang against each other too much and get the full amount of technique and those kind of things to get a perfect look at the run game," Kromer said. "So right now it's just understanding the nuances of the run game, everyone just upping their game a step or two from last year, seeing what we can improve on looking forward to next year."
"So it's really a passing camp this time of year," Kromer continued. "The majority of them are passes and you do a little bit of run game and a lot of times to go fast you might use some guys with shields so guys can come off the ball harder because they are using a shield and you can maybe contact them a little more physically. But this time of year isn't a time other than watching the tape, doing the things in individual that you need to get done, and then when you get to team without the pads, it's really preseason and the season when you get to that level."
But now, that part is effectively done. After a couple camp practices, the Rams will be in full pads and the true evaluations will begin — particularly with one-on-one blocking drills. That's where the individuals on the offensive and defensive lines can truly improve and start to separate themselves from the pack — especially if they can block back-to-back AP Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.