Ojinnaka has shot at starting left guard spot
BY JIM THOMAS
St. Louis marks the fourth stop for offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka since entering the NFL in 2006. He has played every line position but center and has started games at left tackle, right tackle and right guard.
So the guy's been around some. But at the outset of his seventh NFL season, he's experiencing something he has never seen before — his name at the top of a depth chart in training camp.
"This is my first opportunity I've been given to win a starting job," said Ojinnaka. "I'm gonna try to take the job, but at the end of the day I'm doing whatever I need to do to make this team and help this team win."
The sight of Ojinnaka (6-5, 306) at left guard to start camp was surprising given the fact that Bryan Mattison got most of the work with the starters there during the spring practice period.
"I don't know how it happened," Ojinnaka said, modestly. "I took some reps with the '1s' (starters) early in OTAs, but due to Roger (Saffold) not being able to practice I had to play left tackle, help the team that way. I had no idea I was going to be with the '1s' coming back.
"I figured Bryan was going to take most of the reps, since he was doing it in OTAs. I mean, I knew it was competition out there, but I didn't know how they were going to split the reps around. So we'll see what happens."
With the departure and subsequent retirement of Jacob Bell, left guard is one of the most wide-open spots in the Rams' lineup. Who knows? Ojinnaka may merely be keeping the seat warm for rookie Rokevious Watkins, who has yet to do much in training camp because of conditioning issues.
With his size, strong hands and ability to move the line of scrimmage, Watkins could be the left guard of the future for the Rams. But for rookies, training camp can be like a fast-moving train. Miss a week or two of practice at the outset and you could be left at the station for that season.
Robert Turner, who's getting the first-team reps at center while Scott Wells recovers from spring knee surgery, could figure in the mix at left guard once Wells returns. Perhaps Mattison gets back in the picture. But for now it's Ojinnaka, a Maryland native whose shaggy beard rivals defensive tackle Michael Brockers for best on the team.
"I actually started growing it when I first got here," Ojinnaka said. "So it's been about — what is that? — four, five months now. I'm thinking about growing it the whole year. We'll see how long it gets."
Ojinnaka was signed in free agency in late March, and when he arrived he already knew his way around the complex at Rams Park. He spent a month in Rams camp last year under coach Steve Spagnuolo, and at the time, most observers felt he played well enough in the preseason to land a spot on the 53-man roster. But Ojinnaka was gone on the final cut, eventually signing with Indianapolis in October and playing nine games with three starts at right tackle for the Colts.
Previously, he spent most of 2010 with New England, which had acquired him in a late August trade with Atlanta. The Maryland native spent his first four years with the Falcons after being drafted in the fifth round in '06 out of Syracuse. As a rookie, he was given the nickname Moose for some reason by quarterback Michael Vick, then with the Falcons.
"I hated it," Ojinnaka said. "I hope I don't look like a moose."
But things changed.
"Carrying that name for two years with him calling me that, and the rest of the team calling me that, I kind of got used to it and I just stuck with it," Ojinnaka said. "Yeah, it's a cool nickname."
These days, he's embraced the nickname to the point where his Twitter handle is @MooseNation69. (His jersey number is 69.)
Recently, Ojinnaka implored Rams fans on Twitter to bring a Moose/offensive line sign to one of the team's open training camp practices. With some help from the Rams' media relations staff, Ojinnaka wants to pick the best sign and give the winner two free tickets to the team's preseason game Aug. 18 against Kansas City at the Edward Jones Dome.
"I'm just trying to do my part for the team to get more fans in the dome," Ojinnaka said. "In basketball, they say they're like the sixth man, or for football, our 12th man. We're trying to get that dome rocking, so the more fans we get in there the better the team will be."
Alas, after the three days of open practices at Rams Park, there have been no contestants — that is, no signs.
"I haven't seen any," Ojinnaka sighed.
But there's always hope, starting with the next open practice Friday afternoon.