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A position-by-position look at how to stabilize the Rams’ offensive line

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  • A position-by-position look at how to stabilize the Rams’ offensive line

    A position-by-position look at how to stabilize the Rams’ offensive line
    By Rich Hammond Jan 7, 2020 21

    Put together a pie chart, with all the reasons the Rams missed the playoffs in 2019, and the biggest chunk will belong to the offensive line.

    A year ago, the Rams whiffed on the construction of their line by letting veterans Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan leave and believing they could be replaced by two players with almost zero practical experience. That resulted in instability and ineffectiveness that didn’t get reversed until late in the season.

    The Rams couldn’t run the ball effectively in 2019, and Jared Goff often looked skittish without the belief — firmly held in 2017 and 2018 — that the line would give him time to throw and keep him upright.

    By the end of the regular season, the Rams found an unconventional mix that (mostly) worked. Four of the five spots on the offensive line had changed hands since the start of the season, but somehow the Rams allowed only 22 sacks, fewest in the NFL (that’s attributable, in part, to coach Sean McVay’s dedication to running the ball more and rolling out Goff with play-action passes).

    The shuffling resulted in a positive for the Rams, who got long looks at several young linemen at multiple positions. Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, David Edwards and Bobby Evans each played at least six regular-season games, although Noteboom and Allen suffered season-ending knee injuries.

    As the Rams head into the offseason, it’s not so much that they must improve their offensive line. They perhaps don’t even need to make outside additions. Stability is the main thing, and the Rams’ biggest task between now and September is the evaluation of the young linemen. They miscalculated in 2019, but that’s easy to do because it’s difficult to project how inexperienced linemen will play.

    Given what the Rams put on film this season, here’s a reasonable position-by-position plan for how they should approach the offensive line in 2020. These will be listed in order of importance.

    Left tackle
    The Rams had the right idea a year ago. They hoped Joe Noteboom, a third-round draft pick in 2018, would thrive as a first-year starter at left guard, then slide over to left tackle in 2020. Andrew Whitworth was set to play out the final year of his contract and then presumably retire at age 38.

    None of that happened. Noteboom struggled at guard in early games, and just when he seemed to be showing improvement, he tore an ACL in Week 6 and was lost for the season. It’s possible, because of the extensive rehab needed, that Noteboom won’t return to full action until the start of training camp. Meanwhile, Whitworth completed his 14th NFL season, then indicated he wants to keep going.

    As of now, the Rams don’t have a starting left tackle. Here are their options:
    • Proceed with the Noteboom plan and wait for him to return to health.
    • Move Bobby Evans, who started seven games as a rookie at right tackle, to the left side.
    • Move Rob Havenstein, a five-year starter at right tackle, to left tackle.
    • Sign or draft a replacement.
    • Re-sign Whitworth to a short-term deal.
    The Rams must bring Whitworth back. Noteboom will not have a full offseason. Evans, who played left tackle in college, exceeded expectations as a rookie, but he’s not quite ready for this. Havenstein didn’t even play on the left side in college, and if the Rams moved him anywhere, it likely would be to guard. It’s tough to imagine finding a clear upgrade over Whitworth on the trade or free-agent markets.

    Retaining Whitworth is not perfect, given his age (and accompanying injury risk), the decline he showed during parts of 2019 and the continued lack of a long-term solution. However, it’s the best the Rams can do, and they need to do it as soon as possible and not just because of the left tackle spot.

    Whitworth’s last contract had an annual average value of $11 million, and he’s unlikely to get that on the open market. But how much of a discount will he take to stay? The Rams need to know that because their salary-cap space is limited. Whitworth’s cap figure might dictate how much the Rams can spend on defense. And of course, if the Rams can’t reach an agreement with Whitworth before mid-March, when the free-agency window opens, they need to quickly pivot to a backup plan.

    Right tackle
    The Rams must decide if Bobby Evans is capable of handling this job full-time. If so, they need to trade Rob Havenstein, a move that would create $5.4 million in salary-cap room.

    This is a tough call. The Rams erred a year ago when they went all-in on Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen. To suggest they should do the same with Evans in 2020, well, it feels a little unsettling. But at least with Evans, there’s a greater body of work to evaluate. The rookie started seven games at right tackle and held up well in pass protection, but he showed some weakness in run blocking.

    In total, though, Evans far exceeded expectations. If the Rams evaluate the game film and believe he can improve further in 2020, he should retain this job. In a best-case scenario, Evans might thrive and then move over to left tackle in 2021 if Andrew Whitworth retires. It’s not unreasonable to think that David Edwards, who played tackle in college and played well as a rookie right guard in 2019, might get a look at tackle, but the Rams seem to be leaning toward Evans.

    This is unfortunate for Havenstein, who really did nothing wrong. Yes, he struggled early in 2019, but so did every Rams offensive lineman. He recently committed to the Rams with a four-year contract extension, and he’s a good teammate. But the Rams perhaps telegraphed where this is headed. After Havenstein recovered from his knee injury in December, he was a full participant in practice but did not play.

    Havenstein turns 28 in May, and his contract contains a cap hit of approximately $8 million through 2022. That would be attractive to a team in need of a reliable right tackle, and the Rams certainly could use that reclaimed cap space to fill some holes on defense.

    Center
    Austin Blythe, who took over in Week 10 after Brian Allen’s knee injury, is set to leave as an unrestricted free agent, but that would be a mistake. The Rams need to recommit to Blythe, whose effectiveness and communication at center played a huge part in the line’s turnaround in the second half of the season.

    Allen experienced some bumps as a first-year starter in 2019. He’s smart and physical, and should he reclaim the starting job in 2020, he might be just fine.

    It’s just tough to ignore what happened starting in mid-November. Teammates raved about Blythe’s calmness and communication at center, and those are two huge parts of the position. None of it was taken as criticism of Allen. Blythe simply did the job well, and it’s never easy to find a reliable center.

    Blythe made $2.025 million in the final year of his contract, and OverTheCap.com valued him at $3.4 million. Given the Rams’ other needs and cap limitations, they might feel it’s more prudent to go back to Allen, and that would be understandable. But Blythe has showed he can play center at a high level, and should he return, Allen — who also played guard in college — still would be valuable.

    Left guard
    This spot depends on the health and rehab progress of Joe Noteboom, who underwent surgery in October to repair a torn ACL. Based on normal recovery time, Noteboom should be ready for the start of training camp, and general manager Les Snead indicated as much last week, but the lack of a full offseason program puts Noteboom in a tough spot, in terms of conditioning and development.

    If Noteboom looks good in camp, he is the Rams’ best option at left guard. He struggled at the start of 2019, which was to be expected since he had never played guard before. Noteboom showed signs of improvement before the mid-October injury ended his season. He remains a big part of the Rams’ long-term future, and although it doesn’t make sense for him to move to tackle now, he should start.

    If Noteboom isn’t ready, the Rams don’t need to force anything. Brian Allen made 16 of his 38 college starts at left guard. If Austin Blythe returns, Allen certainly has the brawn to compete at that spot.

    Also, Austin Corbett started the final seven games of 2019 at left guard and did a serviceable job. He didn’t have much time to acclimate because the Rams acquired him in a trade with Cleveland a month earlier, so presumably Corbett would be improved with a full offseason under line coach Aaron Kromer.

    Right guard
    David Edwards deserves the chance to show he can build on his solid end to 2019. Much like with Bobby Evans at right tackle, the Rams would love to know they can count on Edwards as a reliable, low-salaried starter at right guard for the next three seasons.

    Edwards, who took over as a starter in Week 7, committed a troubling number of penalties early on but then stabilized his play. According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, Edwards had a full-season grade of 61.0, second only to Whitworth (72.8) among all Rams offensive linemen in 2019.

    If the Rams aren’t totally sold on Evans at right tackle but still want to trade Rob Havenstein, they might even give Edwards a look at tackle, which would make Evans a possibility at right guard. Allen could also be in the mix here if he doesn’t start at center or left guard.

  • #2
    Great read. One thing i strongly disagree with is the analysis on Brian Allen. I think he was just terrible. Hope is not the same thing as reality. I just dont see him as anything more than a backup guy.

    The article talks about the line coming together and continued improvement during the year as personnel changed out. I get that and it makes sense. Pass protection wise, they certainly improved a ton and were not awful at all, in fact pretty good. But lets not kid ourselves. We could not run the ball AT ALL with any kind of consistency for the entire season. It just never happened and in my very strong view our inability to run the ball was the single biggest thing that went wrong with our team all year. The entire offense is based off running and play action.

    Ramming speed to all

    general counsel

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by general counsel View Post
      Great read. One thing i strongly disagree with is the analysis on Brian Allen. I think he was just terrible. Hope is not the same thing as reality. I just dont see him as anything more than a backup guy.

      The article talks about the line coming together and continued improvement during the year as personnel changed out. I get that and it makes sense. Pass protection wise, they certainly improved a ton and were not awful at all, in fact pretty good. But lets not kid ourselves. We could not run the ball AT ALL with any kind of consistency for the entire season. It just never happened and in my very strong view our inability to run the ball was the single biggest thing that went wrong with our team all year. The entire offense is based off running and play action.

      Ramming speed to all

      general counsel
      I'm in complete agreement. Brian Allen is undersized and not a starter in my eyes. After LT, Center is the most critical spot on the O-Line and we need to address that accordingly. If the money is there for Blythe, then sign him and maintain consistency, a benchmark for any O-Line. Otherwise draft a Center on day 2. Tyler Biadaz (sp?) from Wisconsin is the best C in the draft according to WalterFootball, there is also Creed Humphrey from Oklahoma if he declares. Ironically either would reunite with Edwards or Evans, respectively.

      Before any of this we have to decide if we prefer power blocking or zone blocking schemes and that will be determined by who is our feature RB. I'm not certain that it will be Gurley as he's a lesser talent than previously.

      Good article.

      Comment


      • #4
        The hardest thing any coach faces in the NFL is maintaining and constructing an OL

        Team after team gets all wowed by the new flashy WRs, It QBs, powerhouse RBs, thumper LBs, tool Chest TEs and Edge Rusher DEs, but the meat and potatoes of any team is the OL, first and lastly. Your WRs don't catch balls when the QB is face planted; your RBs get hit in the backfield--if your OL isn't solid. It really is that simple--Brady throughout his career played behind very good to respectable OLs and with most history making QBs... Andrew Luck is a case study and a warning to any NFL team if your OL is sub-par

        I wonder just how much HCs look at what teams have done wrong verse what they have done right... Going into 2019 I fretted over the Rams OL and I don't see an easy fix for 2020 even if there is a fix to be found because any fix has to come from FA and there isn't much in the draft pipeline for OL assuming the Rams had any high level draft picks

        The solution will have to come off getting a FB and perhaps converting large TEs/DTs not normally sought after in the draft....I don't think there is enough stock in the later rounds where the Rams will be drafting at to improve the OL

        Comment


        • #5
          Great read, but I disagree 100%. Whit needs to retire, Allen is at best a back-up (he was mauled all year long), and I am not sold on Noteboom based on what I have seen. The rookies showed promise, but are still an unknown at this time. I think you all know how I feel about Blythe (he is a back-up at best). The line has to be retooled. I have seen in a few mock drafts that we go O-line with our first 3 picks, and I would be perfectly happy with that.

          Comment


          • #6
            My pie chart is two slices of why the Rams missed the playoffs. 1st slice is The Leg missing a game winning FG against the Seahags. 2nd slice is Rams D unable to stop multiple 3rd and forevers against the Whiners and handing them a winnable game. Occam’s razor.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ManofGod View Post
              The line has to be retooled. I have seen in a few mock drafts that we go O-line with our first 3 picks...

              Top priority, no question. At least for our first 2 picks.

              Comment

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                CLE

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              • MoonJoe
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                Havenstein was a productive rookie starter, who was drafted in the second-round of the 2015 draft out of Wisconsin. Towards the end of his inaugural season, injuries caught up with him and he was forced to miss a chunk of this past offseason and preseason. As a result, Havenstein’s 2016 campaign suffered and he did not exhibit the same dominance he did during his rookie year. A full offseason without injuries should be big for him going forward.

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              • Nick
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                “I was really excited to get those guys back, and I think I feel so comfortable with both of them,” quarterback Jared Goff said Wednesday during a video conference with reporters. “Getting those two guys back for my confidence, and just feeling good in the pocket is good.”

                The Rams are attempting to rebound from a disappointing 9-7 season that resulted in missing the playoffs for the first time under coach Sean McVay.

                After two seasons of rare continuity, the Rams offensive line in 2019 was patchwork because of injuries. Left guard Joe Noteboom and center Brian Allen suffered season-ending knee injuries. Right tackle Rob Havenstein also was sidelined for the final seven games because of injuries.

                Blythe moved from right guard to center, and rookies David Edwards and Bobby Evans took advantage of opportunities to become starters. Austin Corbett, acquired in midseason trade with the Cleveland Browns, also stepped in and became a starter at left guard.

                Who will play where during the upcoming season is to be determined, but the overarching question for the Rams’ line is the same as it was in 2019: Who will eventually succeed Whitworth? The 14-year veteran signed a three-year contract but is regarded as year-to year.

                “You do take it a year at a time,” McVay said recently.

                Noteboom was regarded as Whitworth’s heir apparent after the Rams drafted him in the third round in 2018. The knee injury stifled Noteboom’s progress, however, and there are still questions about whether he can effectively play such an important position.

                Evans, a third-round pick in 2019, played right and left tackle in college at Oklahoma.

                The Rams do not have a first-round pick in the April 23-25 draft. They have two picks in the second round, two in the third, and one each in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds.

                General manager Les Snead said “the plan was set” when the Rams drafted Noteboom. But plans can change.

                Who is under contract: Havenstein ($7.8 million), Whitworth ($6.7 million), Blythe ($3.9 million), Corbett ($1.2 million), Noteboom ($955,000), Allen ($922,000), Evans ($881,000), Jamil Demby ($750,000), Edwards ($741,000), Chandler Brewer ($675,000), Coleman Shelton ($675,000), Nate Trewyn ($675,000), Jeremiah Kolone ($610,000).

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                -04-19-2020, 01:56 PM
              • MauiRam
                Rookie Joseph Noteboom could be the backup plan Rams desperately need
                by MauiRam
                NewRookie Joseph Noteboom could be the backup plan Rams desperately need

                By Vincent Bonsignore

                LOS ANGELES — By the time the ice hockey career of Joseph Noteboom topped out in the 11th grade, he was pushing 6-foot-5 and well over 250 pounds. He was a big, fast, tough defenseman whose skating skills defied his imposing frame. The job description was pretty simple: Go find the guy with the puck and crush him.

                Noteboom had a particular knack for spotting unsuspecting puck carriers along the boards and then hurling himself at them with all his size, strength and might. Pity the poor opposing player and plexiglass when he timed everything up just right. Which was often.

                “Oh yeah, for sure. I was a big guy so that was my job,” said Noteboom, his devilish grin about as chilling as you’d imagine.

                About the only thing more absurd than imagining a kid that big flying around an ice hockey rink was the location. When you think hockey, Plano, Texas doesn’t exactly come to mind. But then, who would have thought a town in the middle of Texas would catch the hockey bug like Plano did in the 2000s? But that’s exactly what happened deep in the heart of football country.

                Before you knew it, nearly every kid in the region wanted to be Sidney Crosby.

                Or in Noteboom’s case, Drew Doughty.

                “In my area (hockey is) really big,” Noteboom said. “There were at least five ice rinks within 10 miles.”

                The pull of football and a prolonged growth spurt meant hanging up the hockey skates for good. That decision more than six years ago was as easy as it was wise, and it has led him to Los Angeles, where he’s a rookie offensive linemen with the Rams.

                Now 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, Noteboom delivered a crisp, efficient performance in a 19-15 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday that, coupled with a strong training camp, gives the Rams hope they shrewdly uncovered a starting-caliber NFL lineman in the third round.

                Somehow a man as big as Noteboom went missing from the NFL’s draft radar last April over the first 88 picks, allowing the TCU standout to fall right to the very fortunate Rams at pick No. 89. They went into the draft needing to add youth and depth to a position that was top heavy and extraordinarily lucky last year. They left it with Noteboom, Maine tackle Jamil Demby and Michigan State centre Brian Allen.
                All three have played well enough to at least allow the Rams to ponder the possibility that they secured three potential future starters.

                That’s no small feat considering left tackle Andrew Whitworth is pushing 37, center John Sullivan is 33 and right tackle Rob Havenstein, left guard Rodger Saffold and right guard Jamon Brown are all free agents at the end of the season.

                The likelihood the Rams go through another season like 2016 essentially unscathed along the offensive line — they needed
                ...
                -08-21-2018, 10:59 AM
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