INDIANAPOLIS — Each year, offensive linemen are first when it comes to position players on-field workouts at the NFL Combine. In 2018, that's what happened on Friday morning.
Rams run game coordinator Aaron Kromer has been to plenty of these events and has a good eye for what will eventually make a strong tackle, guard, or center.
"When you look at the first rounders, they're big, they're strong, they're fast, and most of the time they're smart," Kromer said on Friday. "And that's why they're first rounders. So everybody would like to have those guys. And then after that, you have to fit your type of skillset that you want. And it won't be the same — I might value something that someone else doesn't value. And I think if you just get that aligned with the group, you'll find the right guys."
When it comes to Combine drills, Kromer said that some have more value than others, since there's always tape on the player from his college days. But it's the face-to-face interaction that makes the Combine particularly useful in the pre-draft process.
"It's a great opportunity at the Combine to introduce yourself to the guy — to see him to physically understand how big he is," Kromer said. "Because there's a big difference between 6-5, 300 with one guy and 6-5, 300 in another guy — body type, muscular structure where they position that 300 pounds. So to be able to see them and talk to them is the most important thing here."
Kromer has many years of experience as an offensive line coach — including one on the Rams' 2017 offensive coaching staff. And though Kromer's title has changed, according to head coach Sean McVay that's more of a reflection of the work Kromer was already doing for Los Angeles.
"With coach Kromer, really, he was really our run game coordinator last year, so I think it was more a demonstration of the respect and appreciation we had for what a great job he did last year. His roles and responsibilities really won't change at all, because he kind of put our run game plans together," McVay said this week. "He and I worked in lockstep to kind of be able to figure that out. And during games, we're in great communication."
"As offensive line coach, it's important that you have an idea of what type of runs you want to run," Kromer said. "And this is a collaborative effort, we have a lot of smart coaches on our staff. Sean did a great job of putting a staff together, as far as that goes. So we get a lot of input from a lot of people and, like I said, it's a collaborative effort."
Check out photos of offensive linemen and running backs at the 2018 NFL Combine
Kromer's experience paired with his familiarity of the Rams' personnel gives him solid perspective on how the club can improve heading into 2018. And because L.A. was so healthy up front in 2017 — the only team to have the same offensive linemen start the first 15 games of the season — there's a need to build depth.
"We were healthy last year and that's unusual. It's happened before, but it's unusual that you play with the same five for every game," Kromer said. "So you're always looking for depth. Every position, you're looking for more depth and trying to find the right eight, or seven, or nine guys — depending on how many you keep — to have a successful year. And every year it's different."
Still, the offensive line made clear progress and clear improvement in 2017 to help Los Angeles become the league's highest scoring team. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan helped stabilize the line as free agents. At one position all season, left guard Rodger Saffold enjoyed the best year of his career, excelling playing in space. And then right guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Rob Havenstein showed strong improvement in their third professional seasons.
"Those two really put the time in during the offseason, prepared their bodies, and when it came time to compete, you could tell," Kromer said. "They improved immensely. Being able to work together, they showed that — hopefully for a long time to come — they can be a solid right side of the line."
As the calendar moves further into 2018, Kromer's looking for the entire line to keep improving in order to sustain the offense's upward trend as a unit.
"I think you're constantly growing. I think the more you work with someone, the more you understand what your'e trying to get done," Kromer said. "So I might say a word that means something to you, it means something different to the next guy. So as we continue to grow, communicate, I think that we'll just continue to get better just by understanding each other better."