NFL Wire News

Rams stock up on OL, add QB


The Sports Xchange

EARTH CITY, Mo. — After selecting running back Todd Gurley in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Rams’ game plan entering Day 2 was to upgrade their offensive line and add a quarterback. They were able to do that with the choice of two offensive linemen and quarterback Sean Mannion thanks to a trade with Carolina that provided them with an extra third-round pick.

The Rams moved from 41 to 57 in the third round and were confident doing that because, as head coach Jeff Fisher said, “At that point, our group (of targets) was large. It was good. We felt like we had a chance just to trade out. Really looking at the group, we also thought the three was probably a little more important than a four and a five.”

Trade talks were occurring with as many as five teams, but a lesser move down would have yielded just a fourth- or fifth-round choice. By making the deal with the Panthers, the Rams received not only the third-round choice but also one in the sixth round.

They added tackles Rob Havenstein with the second-round pick and Jamon Brown with the first third-rounder, but Brown is likely headed for right guard. Havenstein will compete for a starting job at right tackle.

“He is ready to play,” general manager Les Snead said of Havenstein. “(He) started a ton of games — never missed any. They run the ball well up there. He’s just a guy that knows his strengths and weaknesses and how to use them.”

Describing Havenstein and Brown, Fisher said, “We’ve got two big, strong, physical players that extend plays, that finish plays, that go downfield. They’re mauler-type. They’re very, very aggressive, so they’re going to fit our style.

“We’re building this team for the future and I think we’re establishing an identity right now.”

The Rams then followed up on the third day by picking Iowa tackle Andrew Donnal in the fourth round and Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann in the sixth round.

Donnal is yet another Rams pick that suffered a torn ACL although his was during the 2012 season. He had played in the first four games of the season and then became a starter at right guard. Early in that third start, he tore the ACL but was able to come back to play in the season opener the next season. He didn’t start at all in 2013 but played at both guard and tackle.

Last season, he started all 13 games at right tackle and rarely missed a snap.

Donnal also fits what the Rams were looking for in their linemen. After being asked to describe himself, he said, “I view myself as a blue-collar grinder. I’m a guy that’s going to come out and work my ass off every day to be the best that I can possibly be. I thoroughly enjoy just playing football, being an offensive lineman and moving the guy from point A to point B against his will. Protecting the quarterback and mauling inside. There’s nothing better.”

As Fisher said of the draft haul, “It’s been a long time coming, particularly because of the needs. After Todd, our focus went to the big guys. All of them finish; that’s the thing we really like. They’re downfield, they’re pushing people over piles, they’re aggressive and they’re finishing. As Les (general manager Les Snead) said about Cody, ‘If you’re somewhere in the vicinity, he’s gonna hit you.’ There’s some contact involved, and that’s the mindset that we need to carry forward. But it’s also not something that we have to teach; it’s the way they play right now.”

When it was suggested that the Rams made as many choices as they did on the line hoping that some work out, Fisher took exception to that notion.

“We didn’t throw darts now,” he said. “We think these guys can play. Now, we’ll have a much better idea once we get them in here, but we feel they all can come in and contribute. They are durable, they’re smart, they’re well-coached and they’re going to fit in.

“We’re building this team for the future and I think we’re establishing an identity right now.”

Despite the selection of four offensive linemen among their nine picks, Fisher said they remain interested in re-signing unrestricted free agent right tackle Joe Barksdale, a starter last year who thought his value in the market was much higher than reality.

–Mannion ended up being the fourth quarterback selected in the draft after Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Garrett Grayson. He was one of several quarterbacks the Rams worked out in the week before the draft, and Snead said that private session was “what solidified him for us.”

Fisher cited Mannion’s “understanding of terminology, of defenses, decision-making. We sent some information, let him study the night before. We talked about it the next day and he had it down. He’s exceptionally smart. Again, I think the thing that I was most impressed with was his ability to make every throw; the different touches, the deep balls, the shorter throws and then the footwork. I thought his footwork in the pocket and getting out of the pocket was much better than I saw on tape. He had a great Pro Day and he had a great workout for us.”

Draft analysts said Mannion’s weakness was his slow feet and delivery. Mannion knew it and worked on those things with quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer, the brother of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.

“I know one thing that I really tried to focus on after the end of my season was really sharpening up my footwork and really cleaning that stuff up and I felt like I was able to kind of show that at the Senior Bowl and at the combine and at my Pro Day,” Mannion said. “A lot of it was really positive feedback about how they’d seen I made improvements in those areas.”

Asked if improving his footwork helped speeding up his release, Mannion said, “I definitely think so. I think footwork is something that can help a lot of areas of your game. Obviously, quickening my release is something that I had been wanting to do. I think focusing on my footwork and always throwing from the same base in the pocket can really speed up my delivery and get the ball out very fast.”

A closer look at the Rams’ picks:

Round 1/10 – Todd Gurley, RB, 6-1, 222, Georgia

The Rams believe he is a transcendent back that will help make their entire team better. The only question in the short term is when he will be available to play as he recovers from a torn ACL. Gurley’s explosiveness and big-play ability will go a long way toward improving the Rams’ offense.

Round 2/57 – Rob Havenstein, T, 6-7, 321, Wisconsin

Tied a school record with 54 games played, starting 42 and the final 41 at right tackle in the last three seasons. He helped lead the way for three 1,000-yard rushers: Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon and James White, three of the top five rushers in Wisconsin history. Projects to be a right tackle for the Rams.

Round 3/72 – Jamon Brown, G/T, 6-4, 323, Louisville

Started 39 games in the last three seasons, playing right tackle in 2012 and left tackle the last two years. Brown went to Louisville as a defensive lineman but made the switch to the offensive line during his freshman season. He started one game at guard that season. Expect to begin his Rams career as a guard.

Round 3/89 – Sean Mannion, QB, 6-6, 229, Oregon State

The Pac-12’s career passing leader, Mannion has excellent size and football smarts. He worked hard during pre-draft workouts to improve his footwork and delivery, so it will be important to see if he reverts to bad habits.

Round 4/119 – Andrew Donnal, T, 6-6, 313, Iowa

A 2012 torn ACL just when he became a starter as a sophomore sabotaged his 2013 season and kept him from becoming a full-time starter until last year when he started all 13 games at right tackle. A self-described “blue-collar grinder,” Donnal added, “I thoroughly enjoy just playing football, being an offensive lineman and moving the guy from point A to point B against his will. Protecting the quarterback and mauling inside; there’s nothing better.”

Round 6/201 – Bud Sasser, WR, 6-2, 210, Missouri

A very productive receiver that doesn’t have great speed but runs good routes and is able to go up and get the ball. Showed that he is a willing blocker.

Round 6/215 – Cody Wichmann, G, 6-6, 315, Fresno State

Another lineman that plays hard all the time and was called a “self-made guy” by general manager Les Snead. He started 50 games in college, and as head coach Jeff Fisher said, “If someone is in the vicinity, he’s going to hit them.”

Round 7/224 – Bryce Hager, LB, 6-1, 234, Baylor

Hager’s father, Britt, played nine seasons in the NFL, including his final year in 1997 with the Rams. Head coach Jeff Fisher was Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator in 1989 when he was selected by the Eagles in the third round of the draft. Hager played six seasons for the Eagles and his next two with Denver. Fisher said Bryce is similar to his father in being a “sideline-to sideline” player that plays fast and urgent. Led Baylor last season with 114 tackles in 13 games.

Round 7/227 – Martin Ifedi, DE, 6-3, 275, Memphis

Ended his college career as the school’s career leader with 22.5 sacks and also compiled 36 tackles for loss. That sacks total ranked sixth among active NCAA FBS players. A sprained MCL cost him four games at the beginning of the 2014 season, but he still had 9 1/2 sacks in nine games played. Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle is said to be high on him and likes his upside.

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