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Analyzing the Rams’ offensive line — Better the second time around?

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  • Analyzing the Rams’ offensive line — Better the second time around?

    Analyzing the Rams’ offensive line — Better the second time around?
    By Jourdan Rodrigue and Rich Hammond
    2h ago 1

    Here they are again.

    A year ago, the Rams — having jettisoned veterans Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan — went into the season hoping a new-look offensive line could come together. It did … halfway through the season, and only after a lot of instability, poor play and injuries. Somehow, by the end of the season, the Rams found a five-man unit that worked, albeit not soon enough to secure a playoff spot.

    So while many fans clamored for a big-swing offseason, with a lot of changes to the line, the Rams stayed quiet and confident. They enter 2020 essentially with the same unit that ended 2019, plus three linemen — Rob Havenstein, Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen — who suffered season-ending injuries. Quantity is not a problem with this Rams line, but what about quality?

    First, let’s look at the pool of available linemen.

    Projected Rams tackle depth chart
    Andrew Whitworth
    Rob Havenstein
    Bobby Evans
    Chandler Brewer

    Projected Rams guard depth chart
    Joe Noteboom
    David Edwards
    Austin Corbett
    Jamil Demby
    Tremayne Anchrum
    Cohl Cabral
    Jeremiah Kolone

    Projected Rams center depth chart
    Austin Blythe
    Brian Allen
    Coleman Shelton
    Nate Trewyn
    Rich Hammond: A year ago, I predicted on our podcast that the offensive line would be the single biggest determining factor in the Rams’ success or failure in 2019. I also feared they were taking too many risks with the construction of the line and with incorporating inexperienced players. Now, I’m not patting myself on the back here. … Just kidding, I’m totally patting myself on the back here. Because that’s how it worked out during the first half of the season.

    So, going into 2020, do you think there’s still some instability here, or are the Rams in good shape on the O-line?

    Jourdan Rodrigue: Ha! If there is one thing I remember about following your work before the draft and free agency, it’s that you were totally right about the offensive line. Go ahead, take a victory lap (and don’t forget to wear a mask). We’ll allow it.

    I do think there is still some instability, and I say that because this is still a line that has to find its rhythm. Veteran linemen will talk about “wordless communication” and “moving like a fist,” meaning each “finger” has its own job, but the fist as a whole is in sync. You see that from the really great offensive lines in history. And in some cases, it starts at center — while in others, it starts at left tackle. Luckily for the Rams, they have Andrew Whitworth back.

    Hammond: OK, I’m back from the victory lap. That’s the most exercise I’ve had since early March.

    We have the same concern about this line. I think, position by position, the talent is there. Young linemen like Evans, Edwards and Blythe (after his move to center) stepped up, and with Havenstein, Noteboom and Allen coming back from injuries, the Rams have great depth. The problem is: When will chemistry be developed? The OTAs in May and June always present the best opportunity for that. Now, in a best-case scenario, players will be coming in cold in late July. And the Rams still have some things to sort out. Who starts at right tackle and at the guard spots? They aren’t going to have much time to figure that out.

    Rodrigue: I wonder if we see the Rams try again with Havenstein at right tackle, insinuating that if he’s not there full-time in 2020, it was his position to lose. Havenstein also has a pretty substantial cap hit this year (about $8.4 million), and there’s nothing worse for a general manager than a guy with a big cap hit not panning out for you early in the extension and essentially paying him to ride the bench.

    Plus, Sean McVay reiterated this spring that Havenstein was working through some injuries last season that in part contributed to his poor play. And if Havenstein works out at right tackle, that might mean seeing Evans at guard — something else McVay alluded to when he spoke with us in the spring.

    And that, of course, means the real competition for us to watch is … on the inside.

    (Did you catch how dramatic that last line was? Imagine me whipping off a pair of glasses and staring at the camera with a super cliff-hanger-y voice.)

    Hammond: It took my breath away!

    Rams fans, in large numbers, soured on Havenstein early last season, but I’d encourage them not to be shortsighted. I do think there was an injury issue going on. Plus, the entire line was poor early in the season, which goes back to the “fist” thing. I’m certain there was some trickle-down, in terms of other players’ poor performance impacting Havenstein. I thought maybe — and here’s our regularly scheduled mention of the Rams’ salary-cap situation — they might attempt to trade Havenstein, but the fact that they didn’t tells me they think he’s still a starting-caliber right tackle.

    So, OK, let’s ink in Whitworth and Havenstein at the tackle spots, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Blythe got re-signed to be the starting center. So now at guard, we’re talking Noteboom, Evans, Edwards, Corbett and perhaps Allen. That’s dizzying.

    Rodrigue: And that’s a solid competition in training camp, though it’s frustrating for the Rams that they will have limited reps to discern starting spots. However, and you know I’m an optimist, here’s the other side of it: They aren’t bringing anybody in to compete who they haven’t seen in live action before. So technically, they will add last year’s game snaps to the body of work these guys put up in training camp.

    Where I’m really intrigued is how Noteboom will return from the knee surgeries. An ACL and MCL is tough to come back from, and a guard must keep his center of gravity lower than a longer-bodied tackle. That puts more strain on the knee, as well as more quick-burst vertical movement than, say, the at-times-lateral footwork of a tackle. I think Noteboom can be a really solid player if he stays healthy, but again, how he recovers from the injuries will be key. And sometimes guys just don’t come all the way back from that.

    Hammond: To me, Noteboom is the hinge in all this. A year ago, the Rams hoped he would thrive at left guard and then be in position to take over for Whitworth in 2020. Well, all of that went out the window because Noteboom struggled early, then hurt his knee. I think the Rams first need to figure out what they can expect from Noteboom, both in the short term and long term. Can he still be the heir apparent at left tackle? (That assumes, of course, that Whitworth will ever retire.) I’d expect Edwards to push hard for one of the starting guard spots. I was impressed with what I saw during the second half of last season.

    In the short term, Whitworth’s health will be a hold-your-breath thing. He’s been ridiculously durable — he hasn’t missed a game because of injury since 2013! — but he’s 38 and good things can’t last forever. If Whitworth goes down, what will the Rams do? As you said, Noteboom remains a question mark. I’d keep an eye on Chandler Brewer. He doesn’t have much experience, but the Rams like him.

    Rodrigue: And regarding Noteboom’s continued development, I really don’t like it when teams have young guys play live reps out of position as they are developing (in this case it’s not crazily bad because Noteboom was still on the left side). If you’re going to get serious about developing your post-Whitworth left tackle, then do that. Otherwise, you’re just taking valuable reps-at-position away from the guy. So if they think Noteboom projects as the left guard here, then go all in on that. And that’s fine! Meanwhile, start getting some of the young guys development reps against the twos at practice.

    And here’s the other thing: If we assume that right now — this offseason and in practice in the fall — is the right time to start developing your “what happens after Whit” plan (which it is, considering the time it really takes to properly develop at one of the most important positions on the field), then we can also assume that the Rams believe that guy may already be on the roster. Because the two players they brought in via the draft/UDFA process, Tremayne Anchrum and Cohl Cabral, project as guards in the NFL. And that should tell you the confidence not just in the young tackles but also in the future of that position existing on the roster.

    Hammond: Very true, and the Rams currently don’t have a first-round pick in the 2021 draft, so the chance of picking up Whitworth’s eventual replacement there are not as high as they might normally be. Perhaps he will just play until he’s 50.

    OK, Jourdan, we’ve gone through all the options. Let’s make some predictions on the Week 1 starting O-line. From left to right, I’m going to say Whitworth, Corbett, Blythe, Edwards and Havenstein, in large part to maintain continuity from the end of 2019 and also because I’m not certain the best plan for (or the availability of) Noteboom.

    Rodrigue: This is interesting because we are guessing differently on guards, which is pretty reflective of the Rams’ most important offensive line decision this summer. So I think we will see, from left to right: Whitworth, Noteboom, Blythe, Evans, Havenstein.

    And swing men (meaning they can play multiple depth positions, so they’ll usually get active jerseys) can be Edwards and Corbett, while Allen takes a backup center role.

  • #2
    Bottom line, even after the inevitable guessing inclusions, OL 'should' be better this time around.

    Signed: RealRam -- Optimistic fan. '~'

    Comment


    • #3
      Yeah as that of O.L. prevented the team from going to the playoffs. Needs to bulk up
      Carolina Panthers @ Denver Broncos 2/7/2016 CBS 6:30PM EST Santa Clara CA!

      Comment


      • #4
        Let's look at the last 8 games of 2019:

        The Rams went 4-4. Todd Gurley had 3 games one could consider decent: vs. Pittsburgh (12 carries, 73 yds), vs Chicago (25-97) and vs. Arizona (19-95). Gurley is gone now, but his performances last season are relevant to help measure the effectiveness of the offensive line.

        Of greater relevance (and concern) are the numbers of Jared Goff, who is very much still here. Five times in those eight games he had a passer rating of 84.1 or worse. Three of them- vs. Pittsburgh (51.2), Chicago (69.9) and Baltimore (62) were atrocious. He had a pedestrian 11 TD to 9 Int ratio during that stint, not much different from his 11-7 split in the first eight games.

        We can defend the O-line concerning the mediocrity of Gurley, who regressed as a player and is now gone. But it's a little less clear cut concerning Goff. Was his below average play the result of personal regression or was the line more than a little culpable for many of his failures? I don't think you can defend Goff and in the same breath claim the offensive line has improved. You can't have it both ways.

        To me, Goff has major work to do to show that 2018 wasn't his peak as a player. He needs to answer the burning sentiment among many (myself included) of whether or not he's a guy who needs everything around him to be ideal for him to be successful. That said, I am not convinced our offensive line as currently constructed is any great shakes. I continue to be mystified by the blind loyalty shown to an aging 38 year old Whitworth, whose performance declined last season. And equally confusing is the disloyalty shown to Havenstein, who granted had his own performance issues but is still a young player with the potential to be a solid anchor on the right side for the next several seasons. You can flip a coin with everyone else, all of whom are either inexperienced or coming off injuries.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by NJ Ramsfan1 View Post

          I don't think you can defend Goff and in the same breath claim the offensive line has improved. You can't have it both ways. Absolutely agree!

          To me, Goff has major work to do to show that 2018 wasn't his peak as a player. He needs to answer the burning sentiment among many (myself included) of whether or not he's a guy who needs everything around him to be ideal for him to be successful. That said, I am not convinced our offensive line as currently constructed is any great shakes. I continue to be mystified by the blind loyalty shown to an aging 38 year old Whitworth, whose performance declined last season. And equally confusing is the disloyalty shown to Havenstein, who granted had his own performance issues but is still a young player with the potential to be a solid anchor on the right side for the next several seasons. You can flip a coin with everyone else, all of whom are either inexperienced or coming off injuries.
          I don't know about blind loyalty, I'd phrase keeping Whit as - "he's still the best we've got right now." As regards Havenstein, I believe he'll be given every opportunity to reclaim his RT spot on the roster. If he can't regain his former abilities, he could end up being traded due to his cap hit this year.

          (In 2020, Havenstein will earn a base salary of $910,000, a roster bonus of $3,750,000 and a restructure bonus of $2,340,000, while carrying a cap hit of $6,240,000 and a dead cap value of $8,490,000.)

          I really hope trading Big Rob doesn't occur, as the combination of a healthy Havenstein and Higbee could be just what is needed for our running game.

          Our current line as of now isn't "any great shakes" - I agree. That said, Snead and McVay had to clear some cap space by subtracting Gurley and Cooks. Eliminating those two left us thin at both running back and receiver. To offset those vacancies, Snead/McVay added Akers & Jefferson. Akers having the uncanny knack of gaining more yards after contact, and Jefferson running very precise routes while getting early separation as well.

          McVay needs to provide Goff with plenty of "quick hit" plays that focus on getting the ball out fast! I believe the acquisition of Van Jefferson was to fill that role. Assuredly McVay needs to limit the amount of plays which take longer to develop. Goff does well when he establishes a rhythm. McVay and the shiny new OC need to furnish Jared the wherewithal to establish that rhythm.

          We plainly didn't have the draft capital to address all our needs. Clearly Snead/McVay felt the biggest need was replacing Gurley and Cooks with far cheaper options. Add to that the collective experience of our young O-line guys, (Hope! Hope !!), and there you have it. The Rams on both sides of the ball are a big box of chocolates at this point. We'll just have to wait and see ..

          Comment


          • #6
            Very valid comments, Maui and NJ. The issue to me breaks down 2 ways. To begin the line will have to gel at some point before the season if we're to contend for the playoffs and go deep. As you said Maui, the Rams have to keep investing in Whitworth as we have no proven alternative. I think Havenstein will return to his prior to 2019 form and provide the needed protection. The open issue to me is inside, especially at center. Better blocking in the A-Gap should help avoid the relentless pressure Goff had all season. At least we have enough options to try out before the season starts.

            The other question is how good Goff can benefit from a restored running game, slowing down the pass rush. Using a different scheme of 2 TE's can certainly help the issue. I feel the issue with Goff isn't his accuracy or quick release it's his checkdowns finding secondary receivers if his first option is covered. Having better line blocking can help that, but he must still have the mental acuity to get it done. In watching some game replays on NFL Network you can see Goff is making bad decisions. Also let's not blame Goff entirely. The receivers need to make contested catches as well.

            Until the ball is snapped we will keep asking these questions about the O-Line and the writers will keep scaring us based on what happened last year, but players can improve (or not) if coached well and the Rams have a clear idea of what must get done, which I don't think they had last year at this time. Given that fact, I have faith in the coaching staff that this must be solved before any great achievements can happen.

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            • Nick
              A position-by-position look at how to stabilize the Rams’ offensive line
              by Nick
              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
              ...
              -01-09-2020, 04:03 AM
            • Nick
              Rams draft signals confidence in O-Line
              by Nick
              Rams draft signals confidence in O-Line
              Saturday, May 09, 2020 04:00 PM
              J.B. Long

              Survey a group of Rams fans about which position group was most culpable for the 2019 team missing the postseason and the results would be nearly unanimous.

              Offensive line.

              After enjoying an improbable run of health and continuity in recent seasons, last year saw a regression to the mean, and with it, some mean regression.

              As documented in a previous discussion, nine Rams started along the offensive front in the first 11 weeks, including six who were making their first or second NFL start.

              Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen struggled to replace Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan before suffering season-ending injuries.

              Right tackle Rob Havenstein was earning a career-low Pro Football Focus grade before a Week 10 injury in Pittsburgh also ended his campaign.

              So understandably, even with total personnel retention, the line was considered an area of need going into the NFL Draft.

              Instead, the Rams doubled-down on a group that stabilized in December, but in aggregate rated among the NFL's worst in 2019.

              They didn't choose an offensive lineman until their final pick (guard Tremayne Anchrum at 250 overall) or acquire help through trade or free agency, signaling a readiness to run it back with their existing talent, banking on internal development.

              "Last year was beneficial for us, in spite of having some of the injuries and shuffling things around," Sean McVay said. "You got a chance to really evaluate a lot of guys playing in real games that count and you can see that there's a lot of upside."

              It will be at least a year – likely two or three – before we can truly evaluate the merits of this approach, and the results will depend on a number of factors. Most notably, can this group of Rams realize that upside McVay referenced, both individually and collectively?

              But also, do players like Ezra Cleveland (58th pick, Minnesota) or Josh Jones (72nd pick, Arizona) turn into All-Pro tackles? Or similarly, do several of the interior linemen selected in a Day Two stretch where the Rams had four selections outperform L.A.'s existing options?

              In the present, you can understand how general manager Les Snead, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and McVay might prefer what they have in house. And it's not as if they haven't spent comparable draft capital in recent years on this position group.

              2018: Joe Noteboom (3rd round), Brian Allen (4th), Jamil Demby (6th)

              2019: Bobby Evans (3rd), David Edwards (5th)

              They also traded in a 2021 fifth-round pick to acquire Austin Corbett from the Browns last season.

              "You look at Austin," McVay says of the 33rd overall selection from two years ago. "You say, alright, what does it look...
              -05-12-2020, 08:09 AM
            • MauiRam
              Strauss: Rams' O-line coach faces huge task ..
              by MauiRam
              By Joe Strauss

              Paul Boudreau’s task is as straightforward as it is ambitious: He has to sculpt several 300-pound blocks of clay into an offensive line that likely will determine if the fourth version of head coach Jeff Fisher’s offense is more acceptable than the tedious first three.

              Boudreau, 64, is a football lifer on his second go-round as Rams offensive line coach.

              If a coach can ask it of his linemen, Boudreau has at some point made the request and helped show the way. His lines have helped escort five 10,000-yard rushers while one of his units in New Orleans surrendered a mere 15 sacks in 1992, two fewer than his Atlanta Falcons O-line surrendered in 2008. The stand in Atlanta occurred the season after Boudreau was dismissed over guilt by association with the Scott Linehan regime.

              Now in the fourth year of a second term with the Rams, Boudreau is attempting to construct a line from candidates owning just 103 NFL starts. Sixty belong to left guard Rodger Saffold. Only four linemen in camp have ever started a game in the league. One incumbent, left tackle Greg Robinson, is barely 13 months removed from being selected No. 2 overall in the draft. A three-man competition exists at center. Rookies are a virtual lock to start at right guard and right tackle.

              The Rams call the last couple weeks at Earth City “organized team activities,” or OTA’s. Given the experience level, Boudreau is leading Romper Room.

              Even for an old coach, this is a new trick.

              “If you look across my board, I’ve had Rodger one year without being injured. Greg started the last 12 games. That’s it. I haven’t gone through that before. But I have all the confidence in these guys. There might be a step backward to go forward but I think we’ll be OK in the long run,” said Boudreau, who will be replacing center Scott Wells, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Joe Barksdale. A de facto retiree, left tackle Jake Long was a casualty last season of a repeat ACL tear. “Look at the second half of the season after they play Seattle twice and Arizona twice. Then you’ll see how their growth is. Every day is going to be new for them.”

              The Rams addressed the turnover by grabbing three offensive lineman within the draft’s first 150 picks for the first time since taking Alex Barron, Richie Incognito and Claude Terrell in 2007. This time Wisconsin tackle Rob Havenstein, Louisville guard Jamon Brown and Iowa tackle Andrew Donnal came off the board before pick No. 120. Havenstein (No. 57 overall) and Brown (No. 72) project as starters. The Rams didn’t stop drafting linemen until they chose Fresno State guard Cody Wichmann in the sixth round.

              “All of them are fairly smart. All of them are pretty tough. That’s a good beginning,” Boudreau noted. “There’s a lot going on. There’s a new offense, new terminology, the speed of the game, not just understanding what your...
              -06-14-2015, 02:06 AM
            • Nick
              Noteboom, Allen poised to step up after departures of Saffold, Sullivan
              by Nick
              Noteboom, Allen poised to step up after departures of Saffold, Sullivan
              T
              hursday, Mar 14, 2019 03:40 PM
              Myles Simmons
              RAMS INSIDER

              With former Rams left guard Rodger Saffold signing with the Titans on Thursday, there are officially two positions to fill on Los Angeles’ starting offensive line.

              Saffold in particular is a significant void, as he’s been a part of the Rams’ five up front since he was the No. 33 overall pick in the 2010 draft. The other is center, as Los Angeles declined to pick up John Sullivan's option for 2019.

              But change is a constant in the NFL, and Los Angeles is prepared to go into the offseason program with what would be two first-year starters in Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen.

              Noteboom and Allen were the Rams’ first two draft picks last year, starting in the third round. And with a season of practices under their belts — both were able to get in reps with the first-team offense when left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Sullivan received their veteran rest days — Noteboom and Allen should be ready to step up and excel.

              “Here’s what we did last year in drafting Noteboom and Brian Allen — we did have a projection that at some point we’d have to groom them to become starters,” general manager Les Snead said this week. “The thing you hear about Joe is that he’s versatile, he could then fill in for Rodger. And then at the end of the day, you are still grooming him to maybe be a Whitworth replacement or heir apparent in time, but you still need to replenish that, right? So we will look around, let’s say, in the veteran market and scrutinize the draft like we did last year. Because then the goal would be to draft a younger player, let them develop, evolve for a year, and when their time comes [they can become starters].”

              The Rams drafted Noteboom with the intention of him becoming the Rams’ next left tackle. But he does have the versatility to play inside on the offensive line at guard. Last year, for instance, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer had Noteboom cross-training at guard during the offseason program and training camp. Now he should have the experience necessary to potentially start at left guard in 2019, with Allen stepping in at center to replace John Sullivan.

              “I think when you do draft those two players, it is eventually with the anticipation that they can become and ascend into a starting role,” head coach Sean McVay said this week. “What you do feel good about is the way that we practice — specific to that left side of our line — Brian and Joe have gotten a lot of valuable reps, even though it might be in practice, that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise because they are playing behind veteran players. I think seeing the way those guys practice, but then also them getting a lot more reps because of the way that we did it with John, with Rodger, and with Andrew, has enabled them to get a lot of...
              -03-17-2019, 07:44 AM
            • 39thebeast
              Rams line ranked 22 and 2nd in NFC West
              by 39thebeast
              Everyone notices when the stars have big games. But remember that every big rushing, passing or receiving game was set up by an offensive line opening huge holes or giving a QB time to throw.
              So which team has the best offensive line in the league? Scouts Inc. breaks them down Nos. 1 through 32.
              1. Cleveland Browns
              While most NFL teams have about four linemen who are truly starting caliber, the Browns have seven or eight. Not only are they deep, but they arguably have the best left side in the NFL with LG Eric Steinbach and LT Joe Thomas. Entering his second season, Thomas is talented enough to potentially be recognized as the best lineman in the game before the end of the 2008 season. He is a great athlete, has ideal size (6-foot-6, 313 pounds) and the passion to bury his opponent. As a rookie, he wasn't overwhelmed by the speed and size of the game at this level, and now he's had an entire offseason to properly prepare. At 6-6, Steinbach is tall for a guard and lacks ideal bulk, but he is very quick, smart and athletic. He consistently gets under the pads of his opponents, works hard to finish and is tremendous in space. The rest of the group isn't too shabby and made QB Derek Anderson look exceptional last year. The pass protection is impeccable. Ryan Tucker will miss time to start the season, but Cleveland shouldn't miss a beat in his absence. Center Hank Fraley is a tough guy in the middle of the line and does a fine job making the line calls. After a great season in 2007, this group will be even better in 2008.
              2. Dallas Cowboys
              Adding 6-6, 366-pound Leonard Davis to an already stable offensive line was a great move that paid off in a big way last year. A bit of a washout at tackle, Davis proved to be an exceptional guard, and the Cowboys ran behind him when they needed a tough yard. Center Andre Gurode doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best pivotmen in the game today. Getting to QB Tony Romo is very difficult against a group that not only pass protects well, but also holds its own as run-blockers. LT Flozell Adams had his best season, but he signed a new contract in the offseason and will need to keep his intensity up after the big payday. RT Marc Colombo is the weakest link among the starters and could be pushed for playing time if he doesn't play better in training camp. Still, this is a tough group that's coached by Hudson Houch, who is one of the best line coaches in the league and has a knack for getting the most out of his players.
              3. Minnesota Vikings
              Everyone on the planet knew that Minnesota was going to run the football last year, and what did they do? They ran it as well as anyone in the league, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The lack of a passing game cannot be attributed to the Vikings' front five, but this unit is better at run blocking than pass protection. There simply isn't a better offensive lineman in the game than Steve Hutchinson, and his presence on this...
              -06-21-2008, 12:05 AM
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