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Setting the example: The steady leadership of Rob Havenstein
Right tackle Rob Havenstein takes over as the new elder statesman of the Rams' offensive line room with a even-keeled, example-setting presence. 
By Stu Jackson Sep 02, 2022

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald was making an appearance on the I Am Athlete podcast earlier this summer when he was asked about under-the-radar leaders on the team.

One of them was outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. The other?

Right tackle Rob Havenstein.

It might not catch the attention of many, or at least most fans' and of the general public's, but Havenstein's leadership, and the steady, even-keeled presence that comes with it, has been noticeable to anyone who's been around him.

And it was made possible by those who set the example for him, much like he tries to do today.

After an organized team activity session this spring, Havenstein is asked about making up the gap created by the retirement of veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Now the new elder statesmen of Los Angeles' offensive line room, Havenstein tells the reporter Whitworth can't be replaced, and that it would take the power of the group to make up for his departure. Everyone would take that next step in their leadership, and do it in their own way.

Havenstein shaped his approach from several influences in his life, like his high school coach, Frederick (Maryland) Linganore High's Rick Conner. In college, it was Wisconsin teammates like Travis Frederick (a future NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowl center), Ryan Groy, and Rick Wagner – all players who led by example.

"There's juice guys, and that can't be faked," Havenstein "Sometimes when guys aren't juice guys and they talk a lot, it's kind of more just dead noise. So I've always wanted my words to mean something."

Expanding on that idea, Havenstein noticed from his and Whitworth's first season together onward how Whitworth could both lead by example and have his words carry weight.

"He spoke when necessary, he spoke when needed. He had an uncanny ability for that," Havenstein said. "He really led by example. He went out there and just did it first. You could never say, 'Hey, I'm out-working Andrew right now,' you know? That's something I hope I'm bringing right now."

With his experience and resume – he's started 109 games across the regular season and playoffs through seven seasons – it hasn't been difficult for younger players to follow his lead.

"He's been around, he's been a starter since he's been here, and he's had success," Rams left tackle Joe Noteboom said. "Just the way he works, you can't help but just try to do what he does because, day in and day out, on and off the field, he's a great guy to have leading our room now."

What started as a way to provide parking for their families grew into a meaningful day-before-game ritual for home games for Havenstein and left guard David Edwards.

"Our families go down, we really only get kind of the one parking pass," Havenstein explains. "We want them to use the one parking pass, so we all ride down together, and then we split off with the families going the other way. It just turned into one of the highlights of Saturday, going down and just cranking some tunes, having a good time, or even on some games, depending on how late they are, just riding back together, talking about the day, what happened. Just bonding, doing guy stuff."

Edwards – who is now in his fourth season – cherishes that time, because it allows him to pick Havenstein's brain about what's going on in football, what's going on the world, or what's going on with family (they both have two daughters).

It's also time that, given the hectic nature of an NFL schedule, isn't always easy to come by.

"It's just a time I really look forward to because you don't really get that here at the facility or in downtime," Edwards said. "Really special and unique."

The overall impact is one Edwards compares to a "big brother," in terms of Havenstein being an experienced colleague that he has been able to lean on since his rookie year. It also helps, too, that both are Wisconsin products.

"I'm so grateful for him, because when I came in as a rookie, I wanted to be like him, you know what I mean?" Edwards said. "So I don't tell him too often, but I look up to him."

Havenstein's accessibility isn't just limited to those car rides. Edwards said that if a player has a question, Havenstein is more than willing to help and give a good answer. They are five years apart in age, but Havenstein has never treated Edwards – nor any other young offensive lineman – lower because of the difference.

"I think that's what makes him special, is that he is a great way of connecting with everybody," Edwards said. "And he doesn't make anybody feel lesser-than."

Long after the Rams' Aug. 15 training camp practice at their facility has ended, Havenstein is on the field with multiple Rams offensive linemen, including rookies A.J. Arcuri and Logan Bruss.

These post-practice workshops, which Havenstein calls "o-line therapy sessions," are a way for the group to troubleshoot together. Ever been in class and a lesson is being taught a certain way over and over, but then a friend explains it to you differently and suddenly it clicks? That's what's happening here.

In this instance, Havenstein is lending his experience and expertise to working Arcuri and Bruss through run-blocking technique in the Rams' offense.

Havenstein had older players do the same for him when he was younger, telling him what to do when he had questions and didn't understand what was going on, or pulling him aside when he was struggling and helping him get better.

"I feel like I at least somewhat know what I'm talking about now," Havenstein said with a smile. "So if I see a young guy making the same mistakes I've made or I've seen before, it's just easier to go ahead and address that. Maybe it's showing them how it's done, but it's more talking through it and how I understand certain things and certain body positions for offensive linemen, specifically."

That process also includes introspection from Havenstein, too.

During the time the two of them played together, Whitworth saw "the constant maturity" from Havenstein to figure out the next step he can take to elevate his game.

"I think some guys get to a point where they play, and it's like, 'I'm content with just getting on the field and trying to chase just playing time,'" Whitworth "And then there's guys who get out there, experience it, have a level of success and go, 'I want to sustain this for a long time. How do I do that?' And I think that's something Rob has done a great job of continuing to (go), 'Hey, what's a little nugget that I can find and add to my game to help me be successful?'"

Those qualities are what have made, and will continue to make, people follow Havenstein's lead.

"When you start from a place of, there's a ton of pride, and a ton of just want to and passion to be really good at what you do, that's gonna exude other people," Whitworth said. "When you start from there, people are gonna listen to him, understand where he's coming from immediately, because they see the work, they see the passion, the want-to to be really good."

If Havenstein's leadership was under-the-radar before, it isn't now. On Friday, he was voted a team captain by his teammates for the first time in his career – adding to a resume that includes 109 career starts across the regular season and playoffs.

"At the end of the day, I truly want what's best for guys," Havenstein said. "Trying to not help guys because I think they're a threat or whatever – if somebody's going to be better than me, I want that competition 100 percent of the way, but I want everyone in the room to realize what's best for them."

The proverbial torch was in the process of being passed before the Rams' Super Bowl LVI-winning playoff run, when, prior to the playoffs, Whitworth told Havenstein that this would be the last time they would be playing together, and shared some emotional moments together during that run.

Count Whitworth among those excited for Havenstein to take ownership over the offensive line room.

"Now, to have a chance to watch him be that guy for that group, it's gonna be emotional for me all over again," Whitworth said. "I'm just proud of who he is as a person and how he does and goes about his work. It's gonna be a lot of fun to watch."

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