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No bust, all boom for Quinn
By Jim Thomas • email@example.com > 314-340-8197
On the eve of the 2011 draft, former Rams general manager Billy Devaney discussed first-round strategy with owner Stan Kroenke and former team president John Shaw.
“I went over all the possible scenarios,” recalled Devaney, now an analyst for ESPN. “We knew the players that would be gone, and we figured there were like three or four possibilities.”
The last scenario involved the possibility that Robert Quinn, the defensive end from North Carolina, might slide out of the top 10 and down to the Rams at No. 14 overall. Devaney told Kroenke and Shaw that Quinn was the best pass rusher in the draft.
“What’s his deal? Why would he slide?” they asked Devaney.
“Well, he does have a brain tumor,” Devaney replied.
Before they reached full panic mode, Devaney told Kroenke and Shaw to relax. The Rams’ medical staff had done extensive work and research. Surgery in 2007 while Quinn was still in high school had shown it was a benign tumor and that Quinn was fine.
Quinn, in fact, did slide to the Rams at No. 14 overall. Some teams may have been concerned about the medical situation. Perhaps others were scared off by Quinn’s suspension for the entire 2010 season for accepting illegal benefits.
When he joined Rams in 2011, he hadn’t played in a game since December 2009. So there was a boom-or-bust potential to the selection.
Less than three years later, it’s all boom. He knocked the rust off in 2011, and reached double-digits last season with 10½ sacks.
Eleven games into this season, he leads the NFC with 13 sacks. He leads the NFL with six forced fumbles, and at the ripe old age of 23 is well on his way to becoming one of the elite defensive ends in football.
“He’s getting to that point, yeah,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “His effort plays are there. He’s probably being perceived outside the building as an outstanding pass rusher. But he’s a very, very good run defender. He’s a complete defensive end.”
A lot of the top pass-rushers in the NFL don’t pay too much attention to run defense. Quinn was stereotyped as such when he entered the league. And it bothered him.
Quinn remembers scrolling through an item on the Internet and seeing his picture. Next to his face were these words: “He can’t play the run. He has a tumor. Why did you draft this guy.”
“It kind of lit a fire,” Quinn said. “The best way to quiet people is go out there and prove ’em wrong. That’s kind of my mindset the past couple years.”
When defensive line coach Mike Waufle joined Fisher’s incoming Rams staff in 2012, he’d heard the same things about Quinn.
“When we first got here, they said that he couldn’t play the run — he wasn’t a very good run defender,” Waufle said.
But Quinn worked to get stronger and worked to get sounder on technique. No one says Quinn can’t defend the run anymore. Those that do, well, they’re not paying attention.
“He worked really hard at it, and you could see the improvement immediately,” Waufle said. “He wants to become more physical. That’s what he’s working on, being physical at the point of attack. But he is a good technician in the run game.”
That he has 11 tackles for loss — beyond his sack total — is testament to improved run defense.
No one has questioned Quinn’s skills as a pass-rusher. He has at least one sack in eight of the Rams’ 11 games this season. He and fellow end Chris Long have combined for 19 ½ sacks, making them the league’s second most prolific tandem behind Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and Justin Houston with 20.
And when not getting to the opposing quarterback, Quinn is getting close. He leads the Rams with 24 QB hits and with 24 pressures according to game film review by Rams coaches.
“It takes time to get timing down within the pass-rush game,” Waufle said. “And he’s been able to take in the coaching and apply it. Consistently apply it. He already has a great gift of speed. That’s his greatest asset, and he knows how to use it.
“But he does a great job of matching up to the blockers. He works really hard on his tracks as he approaches the blocker in his pass rush.”
Since the Rams arrived in St. Louis in 1995, only Kevin Carter (with 17 in 1999) and Leonard Little (with 14 ½ in 2001) have more sacks in a season. Carter’s total is considered the team’s official sack record, although Deacon Jones had multiple seasons with more than 20 before the sack became an official stat in 1982.
Asked if he’d like to surpass Carter, Quinn chuckled and said: “That’d be a nice number to get to, maybe even — knock on wood — break. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying, ‘OK, I’m gonna definitely break it,’ and not get any for the rest of the year. So I just play it one game at a time.”
And if he does that or even approaches Carter’s feat, Quinn should break the Rams’ defensive drought in the Pro Bowl. The Rams haven’t had a defensive player chosen to the Pro Bowl in a decade. Little at defensive end and Aeneas Williams at safety both were selected in 2003. It seems inconceivable that Quinn won’t get there this year, but stranger things have happened.
“It’d be a nice little accolade,” Quinn said. “It’s been a while. I know Chris (Long) and James (Laurinaitis) have been close the past few years. My rookie year, I could’ve sworn that Chris was gonna make it.
“It’s tough. There’s a lot of talented D-ends out there.”
Quinn always sets the bar high. Every week on the day before the game, Rams defensive linemen each take a test on that week’s game plan. They also must write down their individual goals for that game.
“At first I put down six sacks and five forced fumbles,” Quinn said. “I think the past three or four weeks, I bumped it up to seven sacks and six forced fumbles. In the back of my head, I’m like, ‘OK, Rob. You only have one today. We’ve got six more to get.’”
He got only one sack Sunday against Chicago, but Quinn made it count. Quinn’s hit jarred the ball loose from pesky Bears quarterback Josh McCown. Quinn picked it up and raced 31 yards for his first NFL touchdown late in the fourth quarter, adding exclamation points to a 42-21 Rams victory.
That’s two games in a row that a Quinn sack/fumble has resulted in a touchdown. In the first quarter in Indianapolis, Long scooped up a loose ball caused by a Quinn sack and ran in for a score.
“Robert reminds me so much of Osi Umenyiora in the same developmental stage,” said Waufle, who coached Umenyiora with the New York Giants. “And Osi leads the NFL in the last few years as far as causing fumbles. Once he caught onto, it just became a big part of his game.
“And that’s what I’m most proud of with Robert, that he’s been able to get the ball out. Our biggest problem was that we weren’t picking it up and scoring. So we worked on that pretty hard.”
Judging by the last two games, the hard work has paid off.
The same could be said for Quinn’s NFL career to date. He has come a long way since that 2011 training camp as a rookie.
“When Robert showed up, he wasn’t in great shape,” Devaney said. “His body was a disaster. But he had a great supporting cast around of high-character, hard workers. And he does now. He’s got some good players around that play with a lot of energy.”
Devaney mentioned Long, Laurinaitis, Michael Brockers, and Williams Hayes as examples. He also tipped his hat to good coaching. But at the end of the day, it’s Quinn who has had to do it — on the practice field, in the weight room, and especially on game day.
“I give Robert a ton of credit for putting himself in the position he’s in right now,” Devaney said.
And at 23, he’s just getting started.
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Re: No bust, all boom for Quinn
Credit Devaney for recognizing this guy's potential. For all the failings of the past regime, there were a few quality guys drafted and/or acquired. Quinn is certainly one of them and is having an unbelievable season. If he isn't all-pro this year, there should be a federal investigation.
Re: No bust, all boom for Quinn
So proud of Rob. He's worked hard and its clearly noticeable when you see how good he has been in the run game. He's the most complete and dominant DE in the league today. I am not afraid to say it. He's the most dominant defensive player in the league after JJ Watt.
Re: No bust, all boom for Quinn
JJ Watt was practically invisible in the game against the Rams. Quinn may not be the best defensive player in the league right now, but he sure is close if he isnt.
ramming speed to all
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