With former Rams left guard Rodger Saffold signing with the Titans on Thursday, there are officially two positions to fill on Los Angeles’ starting offensive line.
Saffold in particular is a significant void, as he’s been a part of the Rams’ five up front since he was the No. 33 overall pick in the 2010 draft. The other is center, as Los Angeles declined to pick up John Sullivan's option for 2019.
But change is a constant in the NFL, and Los Angeles is prepared to go into the offseason program with what would be two first-year starters in Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen.
Noteboom and Allen were the Rams’ first two draft picks last year, starting in the third round. And with a season of practices under their belts — both were able to get in reps with the first-team offense when left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Sullivan received their veteran rest days — Noteboom and Allen should be ready to step up and excel.
“Here’s what we did last year in drafting Noteboom and Brian Allen — we did have a projection that at some point we’d have to groom them to become starters,” general manager Les Snead said this week. “The thing you hear about Joe is that he’s versatile, he could then fill in for Rodger. And then at the end of the day, you are still grooming him to maybe be a Whitworth replacement or heir apparent in time, but you still need to replenish that, right? So we will look around, let’s say, in the veteran market and scrutinize the draft like we did last year. Because then the goal would be to draft a younger player, let them develop, evolve for a year, and when their time comes [they can become starters].”
The Rams drafted Noteboom with the intention of him becoming the Rams’ next left tackle. But he does have the versatility to play inside on the offensive line at guard. Last year, for instance, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer had Noteboom cross-training at guard during the offseason program and training camp. Now he should have the experience necessary to potentially start at left guard in 2019, with Allen stepping in at center to replace John Sullivan.
“I think when you do draft those two players, it is eventually with the anticipation that they can become and ascend into a starting role,” head coach Sean McVay said this week. “What you do feel good about is the way that we practice — specific to that left side of our line — Brian and Joe have gotten a lot of valuable reps, even though it might be in practice, that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise because they are playing behind veteran players. I think seeing the way those guys practice, but then also them getting a lot more reps because of the way that we did it with John, with Rodger, and with Andrew, has enabled them to get a lot of work to where you feel like you’re at least projecting based on having a little bit more of a sample size [that they can start].
“A lot of that is outside of the games, but they played in a handful of games where you could see it, they got some good work in the preseason, and you guys know the confidence we have in Aaron Kromer’s ability to develop guys.”
Check out the top photos of the Los Angeles Rams offensive line and quarterbacks from the 2018 season.
McVay cited 2018 starting right guard Austin Blythe as an example of that. Blythe spent 2017 much like Noteboom and Allen did in 2018 — practicing during the vet days, and playing in spot duty whenever necessary. Then Blythe was able to step in at right guard to replace former RG Jamon Brown when he was suspended for the first two weeks of 2018 and never gave the job up through Super Bowl LIII.
“I think that’s a great reference if you look at Austin Blythe, where he gets an opportunity, we end up getting him off waivers from the Colts and he ascends to a starting right guard spot and he did an outstanding job,” McVay said.
If the Rams can get the same kind of production out of Noteboom and Allen in 2019, they’ll be in good shape to make a run at a third consecutive NFC West title.