Rams offensive line may stay put
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It looks as if the youth movement will continue on the Rams' offensive line. After reviewing Oakland game tape and meeting with his staff Monday, coach Scott Linehan is leaning strongly toward starting the same five blockers this week against Washington.
"Right now, if we were to decide today, that would be what we would do," Linehan said, "just because it would be nice to have some continuity in there."
The Rams have started six line combinations this season and haven't had the same starting five together for more than five consecutive games. In Sunday's 20-0 victory over Oakland, the Rams started Todd Steussie at left tackle, Mark Setterstrom at left guard, Brett Romberg at center, Richie Incognito at right guard and Alex Barron at right tackle.
It was Incognito's first NFL start at right guard and Romberg's first NFL start — period. Setterstrom, a rookie from the University of Minnesota, made his fourth NFL start in what was only his fifth NFL game. So it's a young and extremely inexperienced interior of the line. That trio has played in only 28 NFL games, with 19 starts, between them.
So is this the line of the future for the Rams? Linehan didn't dodge the question.
"It's a possibility," he said. "It's certainly something to look at right now. They're a young group, really, across the board if you take (Todd) Steussie out of the mix.
"The encouraging thing is they're very willing. They've improved to this point to get in there, and deserve an opportunity. It shows some good depth down the line, for sure. I don't know if it'll be our starting lineup after this week, but we're not focused on anything but this game. So far, so good."
Obviously, any "line of the future" would feature Orlando Pace at left tackle instead of Steussie.
Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowler, suffered a season-ending triceps injury Nov. 12 against Seattle.
Obvious, too, is the fact that veterans Andy McCollum and Adam Timmerman could be on the outside looking in next season if Romberg remains at center and Incognito stays at right guard. Known as the "Donut Bros.," McCollum and Timmerman have been vital cogs in the Rams' offensive line for much of the past decade.
Timmerman has been a Rams starter since 1999. McCollum also joined the Rams in '99 but didn't become a full-time starter until the 2000 season. Including their NFL time before joining the Rams, McCollum and Timmerman have combined to play in 358 regular-season games, with 317 starts.
McCollum turns 37 in June; Timmerman turns 36 in August. Linehan said he will forgo any discussions with the Donut Bros. about their future until the end of this season.
"It's not the appropriate time," Linehan said. "We're really not talking about any of those things, or making any evaluations at this point. When that time comes, we'll address that right away."
Timmerman's string of 184 consecutive games played — 204, if you include playoffs — ended Sunday when he was on the pregame inactive list in Oakland. Timmerman declined comment after the game. But Linehan said Timmerman wasn't happy about sitting out the Raiders game.
"I think he was very disappointed, and I 100 percent understand that," Linehan said. "The competitor that he is, and the teammate that he is to the other guys ... it wasn't easy. But he handled it with class."
Timmerman had been playing with three cracked ribs since the game Nov. 19 at Carolina, and that injury played a role in Linehan's decision to go with Incognito at right guard. If the ribs are healing, Timmerman could play against Washington, although it looks as if it would be in a reserve role.
"If he can practice, that would enhance our ability to have him back in there," Linehan said. "But he hasn't been able to practice with the pain he's got in there. Which is understandable, but it really doesn't help a guy get himself ready to play a game, especially on the o-line."
As for the youngsters, Linehan and offensive coordinator Greg Olson came away from the Oakland game encouraged by the work of the interior line.
"We didn't see a lot of physical mismatches," Olson said.
"There were some tough matchups in there at times," Linehan said. "We won some, we lost some. But we kept coming at them."
Count Steven Jackson among the boosters of Setterstrom, Romberg and Incognito.
"I think we're looking at the future of our offensive line — hopefully, possibly," Jackson said.