NFL Wire News

Put-up or shut-up time for Rams offensive line


The Sports Xchange

EARTH CITY, Mo. — It has been like a broken record all summer whenever the prospects for the St. Louis Rams offense are discussed. There’s new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. There’s new quarterback Nick Foles. There’s new running back Todd Gurley.

And, there’s a mostly new offensive line that will be at the forefront of scrutiny now that the preseason is over and the Rams being serious preparations for the season opener at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

How nice is that line? Well, there were 10 linemen retained on the 53-man roster, and of that group, a whopping five are rookies, two of whom will start.

Two were rookies in 2014; one is a free-agent addition and the “old man” of the unit, 28-year-old Garrett Reynolds; another is the likely starting center with all of four NFL starts on his resume, Tim Barnes; and finally there is guard Rodger Saffold, who has been with the team since being a second-round pick in 2010 and has 60 starts. The remaining starters, assuming Barnes gets the nod at center, has a total of 16.

Left tackle Greg Robinson, the second overall choice in 2014, started 12 games last season. The other starters will be rookie left guard Jamon Brown and rookie right tackle Rob Havenstein.

The five backups, in addition to the versatile Reynolds are center/guard Demetrius Rhaney, who missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury, and three rookies: tackles Andrew Donnal (fourth round) and Darrell Williams (undrafted free agent) and guard Cody Wichmann (sixth round), who missed most of camp because of a calf injury.

Somewhat of a surprise in the cut to 53 was center Barrett Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, whose first two seasons were compromised by injuries. Jones was in the competition for the starting job, and was considered the favorite. But he never grabbed hold of the spot, and Rhaney’s play at guard in the final two preseason games solidified his position.

Line coach Paul Boudreau will have a challenge getting his line playing together quickly considering the first five games are against Seattle, at Washington, Pittsburgh and followed by road games at Green Bay and Arizona.

The starting group hasn’t played together, thanks to the shoulder injury Saffold suffered on the fourth offensive play of the preseason opener, and Brown being switched to left guard one day before the third preseason game against Indianapolis.

The Rams aren’t alone in the NFL as a team that begins the season with uncertainty on the offensive line. However, the need to get off to a good start on offense is imperative considering the relocation cloud hanging over the franchise.

Head coach Jeff Fisher insists this is a much improved team and said that was evident in the difficult of cutting down to 53. But doing better than the six games they won last season will largely be on the shoulders of the offense.

The Rams have usually played Seattle tough, especially at home, and Fisher was asked about the advantage of opening against a familiar opponent.

He said, “Well, the opening game, the opener of the National Football League is special. There’s enthusiasm, excitement, everything – it’s very unique to that. But, to be able to open at home makes it even more special. And then once you add in the component or the element of being able to open against a divisional opponent that’s really good, that makes it for a great week.”

Fisher only hopes he is able to say that late next Sunday afternoon.

Notes: Running back Todd Gurley won’t play in the regular-season opener and there has been no timetable said publicly about when he will play his first game. Gurley suffered a torn ACL on Nov. 15 last season while at Georgia. … Running back Tre Mason, who tweaked his hamstring in the third preseason game and did not play in the preseason finale, is “doing good,” according to Fisher, who added, “He had two treatment sessions today (Saturday), and he’s doing well. So we’ll see how he is during the week.”

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