Rams' line coach got the most out of 'misfits'
By Jim Thomas
Before the season finale in Seattle, Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and his unit saw a lot of different faces as they watched film of their early-season matchup with the Seahawks,
Wayne Hunter was playing left tackle; Quinn Ojinnaka started at left guard; and center Scott Wells wasn’t playing at all. Only two members of that Sept. 30 starting O-line were on the field three months later in the season finale. And right tackle Barry Richardson was the only Sept. 30 line starter still playing the same position.
It was that kind of year. In what overall was a light year for Rams injuries, Boudreau’s unit suffered more than its share.
“It kind of set us back with Scott being injured during the training camp, and then in the first regular-season game,” Boudreau said. “But the good thing is and I kept on telling them, if you can just survive that little blip, when everybody starts to come back we’re gonna have some people here that actually have had some playing time.”
Actually, it was more than a “blip.” Following a knee injury that kept him out of much of the spring and the preseason, Wells suffered a broken foot in the first half of the season opener in Detroit. He missed the next nine games. Rookie guard Rokevious Watkins, a projected starter, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the opener.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold went down with a knee injury in Game 2 against Washington and missed the next six games. And just when the Rams looked like they had some continuity down the stretch, right guard Harvey Dahl ended up on injured reserve because of a torn biceps in Game 14 against Minnesota.
“You’re going into the regular season, and we cut Ojinnaka, and two weeks later he’s starting,” Boudreau said. “My big thing was don’t panic. Keep on working.”
The Rams got by and improved as the season went along. The moral of the story?
“You better have the next guy ready to play,” Boudreau said. “You gotta be ready to play, and when you come into a meeting you can’t have an off-day. To their credit, these guys, they drank the Kool-Aid.”
And bought in. In the long run, the experience gained by Shelley Smith, who had six starts at guard, and Joe Barksdale, who had two starts at left tackle, will be invaluable next season. Both are under contract for 2013.
Rob Turner, who had only two starts in four-plus seasons with the New York Jets, started all 16 games for the Rams in 2012 — nine at center and seven at left guard.
“Rob is a good, solid starter for us,” Boudreau said. “But in a perfect world if you had an offensive line that was intact, he’d be the perfect swing guy. He can play all three inside positions and he doesn’t need a lot of reps because he’s really intelligent. But he was forced into a starting role.”
When Turner arrived in St. Louis for his free-agent visit last spring, he was coming off an ankle injury. The Jets didn’t show any interest in re-signing him. Hunter joined the Rams in a late August trade because the Jets no longer wanted him. Richardson was unwanted by Kansas City and was on the market till mid-May — not a lot of interest in him around the league. Smith and Barksdale were waiver-wire pickups in September. Chris Williams joined the Rams in midseason after his release by Chicago.
Even Dahl, after experiencing success in Atlanta, joined the Rams in 2011 via free agency because the Falcons didn’t want to pay him. And Boudreau himself had been dumped by the Falcons following the ’11 season.
“I told the whole crew when we got together one time, I said one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Boudreau said. “I said look at me: They didn’t want me in Atlanta. I said, we’ve got a bunch of misfit toys, but I’m happy as hell I got you.”
For all of them, St. Louis provided an opportunity to continue their careers. At the end of the day, it worked out better than anticipated.
“We got a lot out of them, really, as far as all the mixing and matching that we’ve done,” Boudreau said. “And it’s to their credit; they’ve done a great job.”
Boudreau isn’t sure what the draft and free agency will bring but feels the nucleus for 2013 is a little better than what he had a year ago.
“We still have some holes to fill, but it’s a start,” Boudreau said.
Keeping Saffold and Wells healthy will be a key to the line’s success next season.
“The first year, Rodger kind of got his feet wet and he had a pretty successful year,” Boudreau said, referring to Saffold’s rookie season in 2010.
But then came injuries that cost him seven games in 2011 and six more this season.
“So you just don’t know. You think you have something going and then an injury happens,” Boudreau said. “He’s a really talented kid.”
Wells had been very durable during his eight seasons in Green Bay. But he’s 32, and the wear and tear of 127 NFL regular season and postseason games might be catching up with him. The knee issue flared up again late in the season, forcing Wells to miss valuable practice work.
“This offseason’s gonna be big for him. Hopefully, he doesn’t go out and get a dozen more kids,” Boudreau joked.
Wells and his wife adopted three children from Uganda last summer.
Re: Rams' line coach got the most out of 'misfits'
I am impressed with the job Paul Boudreau did this year. He took a newly configured line, dealt with some injuries and made this unit decent. They improved as the season progressed- very good news. ZERO sacks allowed the last two games, if I remember correctly!