The biggest question mark facing the Rams heading into 2015 is the team’s offensive line. Not necessarily a problem, just an uncertainty for now.
The Rams could start up to two rookies along the O-line this season, with Rob Havenstein as the overwhelming favorite to start at right tackle, while Jamon Brown could slide in beside him at right guard.
The team is virtually guaranteed to start a player with less than five career starts at center.
Tim Barnes has four career starts while Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney have a grand total of zero starts between them.
That’s a lot of inexperience for a group tasked with the responsibility of opening holes for Todd Gurley and Tre Mason, as well as keeping new quarterback Nick Foles upright.
But, the Rams aren’t the only team in the NFC West with question marks along the offensive line.
Consider these teams:
The defending NFC champion received plenty of praise when it acquired tight end Jimmy Graham from the Saints back in March. But, the Seahawks included two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger as part of the trade compensation and they didn’t draft his replacement in April. Former undrafted player Lemuel Jeanpierre is the projected starter at center, and while he did appear in 16 games in 2013, he was absent from the active roster for much of 2014 before starting three games late in the year.
Left guard James Carpenter has never lived up to the expectations of a former first-rounder while Justin Britt and J.R. Sweezy’s 2014 performances left something to be desired. Fortunately for Seattle, Russell Okung remains a solid pass protector at left tackle.
San Francisco 49ers
For all the questions surrounding the Rams’ offensive line, at least Rodger Saffold didn’t unexpectedly retire in early June, leaving the team in the lurch. That’s exactly what Anthony Davis did to the 49ers, who now have to scramble to fill the right tackle position. Journeyman Erik Pears will likely join the starting lineup at right guard, which is great news for Aaron Donald and the rest of the defensive tackles in the NFC West.
Joe Staley remains one of the best left tackles in the game, but projected starting left guard Brandon Thomas has never played an NFL snap. Compounding the Niners’ issues, center Daniel Kilgore is coming off a broken leg, and Alex Boone will attempt to move from guard to tackle.
On paper, the Cardinals have the best offensive line in the division but that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks facing their starting five.
Mike Iupati is a road grader in the running game and will provide an immediate upgrade in that area, but he has known issues in pass protection. Meanwhile, fellow guard Jonathan Cooper has battled conditioning, leg, wrist, and toe issues since Arizona selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft (He’s another example of why drafting a guard that high is foolish, although he still has time to turn around his career).
Left tackle Jared Veldheer proved to be a terrific free agent acquisition last year, but Bobby Massie remains a below average starter at right tackle. Projected starting center Ted Larsen struggled to generate push in the running game last year, as did the rest of Arizona’s interior. Ask the Rams about interior linemen not generating enough push.
Perhaps Larsen will be better with the presence of Iupati, but the Cardinals will be fortunate to receive average production from him.
Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks have masked average play from their offensive line with a dominant running game led by Marshawn Lynch. It’s a strategy the Rams hope to fall back on if their inexperienced O-line struggles.
The key to any offensive line’s success is whether or not it can develop chemistry and cohesion. It’s impossible to gain those qualities without reps, which is why it’s important for Jeff Fisher and Paul Boudreau to figure out who the starting five will be so that line can come together as a group in the preseason.
But, at least the very least, the Rams won’t be the only team in the division that faces uncertainty along its offensive line heading into the season.
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