Rams get younger on defensive line

BY JIM THOMAS
Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Last season, the Rams started three defensive linemen who were age 32 or older Justin Bannan, James Hall and Fred Robbins. This year, they'll start at least three who are age 27 or younger Chris Long, Robert Quinn and newcomer Kendall Langford.

Be it via free agency or the draft, the team remains on the lookout for another starting defensive tackle. But the hope at Rams Park is that they're three-fourths of the way toward having a more talented defensive line.

"We've got some great guys out there on the end in Chris Long and Robert Quinn," Langford said on a conference call Monday. "I'm sure those guys, they're going to give (offensive) tackles hell all day and force the quarterback to step up."

That's where Langford, who's scheduled to start at one of the defensive tackle positions, comes in. Were it not for some problems with his college entrance exams, Langford might have ended up as a teammate of Long's years ago at the University of Virginia.

"I was getting recruited by UVA, but it didn't work out SAT-wise," Langford said.

So Langford, who is from Petersburg, Va., ended up at Hampton (Va.) University. But he was familiar with Long before signing his four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams.

"We were in the same (NFL scouting) combine group, things of that nature," Langford said. "So I knew who he was; he knew who I am. I've spoken to him since I signed with the Rams. And he's excited; I'm excited. Man, we're just ready to get after this thing. And that's scary, because we're a young group of guys that can do a lot of damage in this league."

The dynamic is a little different on the offensive line, where new Rams center Scott Wells, 31, is two years and four months older than his St. Louis predecessor Jason Brown.

Wells, who made his first Pro Bowl last season with Green Bay, in theory gives the Rams two-thirds of a solid interior along with right guard Harvey Dahl. But the Rams still are searching for a starting left guard, and it could be a position they address in the draft.

Although he hasn't spoken yet with quarterback Sam Bradford, Wells said they have been communicating via text messages.

"He's excited to work with me; I'm excited to work with him," said Wells, who also signed a four-year, $24 million contract. "I think with my experience in eight years in the NFL in a very complex offense, that should help as far as recognizing defensive pressures and communicating, making sure everybody's on the right page."

Wells is going from one of the NFL's best teams in recent years to one of its worst but doesn't seem to be bothered by the disparity in wins and losses.

"I hadn't really thought about that part," Wells said in his own conference call Monday. "I'm just excited about where it's going. I don't think it's important, necessarily, where the team has been in the past. They have a new coaching staff, they've got some new players, and I'm excited to be a part of that."

Langford has his own perspective, having joined a Miami team that was coming off a 1-15 season when he was drafted in 2008. So he's looking forward to the challenge in St. Louis.

"It's very appealing to me," Langford said. "Kind of the same scenario. They were 1-15 (in Miami) and we came in there with the mindset, 'We need to change the culture around here.'"

Obviously, signing contracts that average $6 million a year was a strong pull, but for both players the chance to work with new Rams coach Jeff Fisher helped seal the deal.

"I've followed Coach Fisher since I was in high school growing up in the Nashville area," Wells said. "I really admired what he was able to do with the Titans when he was here. (I) really wanted to explore an opportunity to play for him some day, and through free agency I've been given that opportunity."

Langford said he heard "nothing but great things" when he asked people about Fisher.

"No one has said anything negative about the guy, and when I met with him that kind of put the icing on the cake there," Langford said. "He seems like a players' coach. He understands the business, he understands how to rest his players, how to prepare his players, and things of that nature. He has a good track record. He just seemed like a good person for me. He's putting an all-star coaching staff together over there. I'm excited about what can happen this year."

Ram-blings

The Rams had expressed some interest in free agent David Garrard as a potential backup to Bradford, but Garrard is signing with Miami. Another option could be Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson, but he could be headed to San Francisco.

Even after signing cornerback Cortland Finnegan, the Rams might have interest in free-agent cornerback Tracy Porter, but so far no visit has been set up.

The New Orleans Saints are expressing interest in Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain, but so far no visit has been set up.