Barron should step right into Rams' lineup
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Saturday, Apr. 23 2005

Maintaining an offensive line was quite an adventure for the Rams last season.

Center Dave Wohlabaugh didn’t make it back from offseason surgery. Right tackle
Kyle Turley tried, but failed, to return from his back injury. Andy McCollum
moved from left guard to center, creating a merry-go-round at that position.

There was a constant rotation at right tackle as well, with the likes of Grant
Williams, Scott Tercero and Blaine Saipaia taking a stab at it.

“We’ve been kind of taping things together on the offensive line,” coach Mike
Martz said.

But the Rams will be rock solid along the offensive front this season. By
drafting 6-foot-7, 320-pound Florida State tackle Alex Barron with the 19th
overall pick of the NFL Draft, the team filled a big need with a superior
athletic prospect.

“To have a lookalike, body-wise, to Orlando Pace . . . a 37-inch reach, just a
phenomenal athlete, he has played both sides . . . he’s run the 40 at 4.9 . . .
from the technique aspect, he is a way’s away," Martz said. "He has a lot to
learn about the ins and outs of offensive line play at this level.”

But, Martz said, “It’s a terrific opportunity to get a guy who could play here
for some time. We’ve had a number of right tackles. It has been an issue for
us.”

The earlier signing of free agent Rex Tucker filled the hole at left guard. “I
don’t think people realize how significant that move is for us,” Martz said.
“Before he got hurt, he was playing at a Pro Bowl level.”

Locking left tackle Orlando Pace into a long-term deal was also huge. His
year-to-year tenure as a “franchise” player finally ended. So have the annual
holdouts from training camp.

So on Saturday afternoon, Martz was deservedly thrilled. “For the first time
since ’99, we don’t have to make do,” he said.

The Rams' offense is quite involved, as you know. So the constant shuffling of
blockers compromised its efficiency.

Martz believes he will be heading into his 2005 season preparations with a
stellar unit. Pace, Tucker, McCollum, Adam Timmerman and Barron are expected to
start, from left to right.

Saipaia will back up Tucker, who has been plagued by injuries, and Tercero will
back up at all five spots.

“I’m not going to be calling an offensive lineman in Nebraska, who is coaching
high school football, and asking him if he can get here in two weeks,” Martz
quipped.

That player was guard Chris Dishman, one blocker the Rams brought out of
retirement last season. Old friend Tom Nutten was another. The Rams had to
scramble last summer once the injury dominoes began to fall.

Martz didn’t want to go through that again. So he admitted he was sweating out
the No. 19 pick.

The Rams also coveted right tackle Jammal Brown and safety/linebacker Thomas
Davis, but both players left the board earlier in the round.

The front office mulled a variety of trade opportunities and also embraced the
possibility of picking a prospect at another position. But the flow of the
first round shifted, with a sudden run on defensive ends, and Barron fell into
the Rams’ lap.

Barron wasn’t as tough or consistent a performer as Brown, a bulldozing run
blocker. But he brings highly unusual agility to go with his size and reach. He
won over Martz during his earlier visit to Rams Park -– and Mad Mike considers
it a “strong possibility” that Barron will start Game 1.

“I’m excited,” Martz said. “I really am.”

Rams Nation ought to feel the same way.