Of all the things that have gone right for the Los Angele Rams this season, perhaps nothing has been more consequential than the strides they've made and the continuity they've enjoyed up front.
A year ago, right tackle Rob Havenstein was the only member of the offensive line to make every start. 14 individuals made at least one.
In 2023, rookie Steve Avila played every game at left guard and Coleman Shelton at center. And since he took over the right guard job in Week 4, former Pittsburgh Steeler Kevin Dotson hasn't missed a day either. In total, only six Rams have made starts along the offensive line.
Under new leadership, with position coach Ryan Wendell at the front of the room, the Rams have received key contributions from assistant offensive line coach Zak Kromer, offensive assistant Nick Jones, and Hall of Famer Mike Munchak acting as a consultant and sounding board.
As a team captain, and as the senior statesman and spokesman of the offensive line, it was a privilege to have Havenstein on Rams Revealed this week to reflect on the 10-win regular season and set the stage for Wild Card Weekend in Detroit.
After all, the Havenstein family has deep ties to the state of Michigan. And the 31-year-old is the only active player who has been in a Super Bowl huddle with Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford.
His thoughts on the quarterback dynamic, the Lions ferocious defense, and the deafening conditions they expect at Ford Field are all worth a listen.
But since they individually and collectively overachieved to such an extent, I wanted to hear Havenstein shout out each one of his running mates. And transcribed here is an abridged version of some of those comments.
Kevin Dotson (PFF #2 OG): "He is a tried and true guard. Big, barrel-chested strong dude. Plays angry. Plays mean. Just getting to know him, he is one funny dude. May not seem like it, but he is a funny guy. He's a great addition to the room."
Coleman Shelton (PFF #17 C): "Coleman's a grinder. No one wanted to give Coleman a chance. Coleman just kept playing well and kept doing the right things and getting better and better and better until it basically came to the point of like, okay we can't not give him an opportunity because this guy works. The way he takes control of the offense, the way he cares about getting us in and out of the right plays and working with Matthew."
Steve Avila (PFF #34 OG): "Sky's the limit with Steve. The way he's gone out and played, the way he's fixed things through his practice, and then the way he's grown as a professional – especially in the meeting room."
Alaric Jackson (PFF #43 OT): "Stoic… Straight-faced, boom. Nothing shakes him, nothing rattles him… He's been a rock over there at left tackle."
Joe Noteboom: "To have another starter as a backup – we got two, luckily, with Brian (Allen) and Joe – that makes us better. Because unfortunately, I missed a couple of games this year and it's just plug-and-play. You don't feel you have to protect a certain guy or change the offense… because Joe's just that solid of a guy, that solid of a player."
As for Havenstein, himself?
What did he make of his own regular season? Could we get him to acknowledge it might be the best campaign of his nine-year career?
I was skeptical, but tried anyway.
"Oh you're right. I'm not going to answer that," he said with a laugh.
Havenstein is the eighth-rated tackle in the NFL in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. And for the Rams to extend their season beyond Sunday Night, he and the five up front will have to deliver another peak performance.
For his complete thoughts on the season that was, and the opportunity in front of them, join us for Rams Revealed on YouTube or your preferred podcast platform.