The Rams have durability issues along their offensive line.
Pauses until reader picks himself off the ground.
I know, it’s crazy. It’s like the information came out of nowhere.
Jake Long hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his third year in the league. (He’s entering his seventh season.) Rodger Saffold has also missed 17 games over the past three seasons due to various ailments involving his shoulder, knee, neck, pectoral and fibula. Scott Wells, meanwhile, has played in just 19 games for the Rams after breaking his foot in 2012 and fracturing his fibula in December of last year.
The trio’s injury history has sparked a very tedious, yet fair debate about whether or not the Rams’ O-line can collectively stay healthy in 2014. After all, a starting five of Long, Saffold, Wells, Greg Robinson and Joe Barksdale offers plenty of intrigue and promise. But I dare you to start up a conversation about the O-line without throwing in the caveat “…if they can stay healthy” at any point during the discussion. It’s like innocently logging onto Youtube to catch up on current events, only to get sucked down the rabbit hole of movie trailers, fake shark attacks and videos of Lego characters re-enacting the greatest sports moments of the last 10 years. It’s impossible.
That said, the better question might not be whether or not the offensive line can stay healthy, but rather what happens if the Rams do suffer an injury? Recent history suggests that not all of the projected starters will make it through a 16-game season. But did this team do enough in the offseason to withstand an injury or two?
The answer, at least at this point, is yes.
Injuries aren’t completely avoidable during a grueling NFL season, but not having enough depth and versatility is preventable. The Rams are fortunate that the Raiders are so dysfunctional Saffold wound up back on their doorstep after visiting Oakland in March.
And despite signing Long and Wells to lucrative deals the past few offseasons, Saffold has emerged as the lynchpin along the team’s offensive line. The Rams have been in camp less than a week and he’s already lined up at left tackle and left guard, which in turn has allowed Jeff Fisher and Paul Boudreau to get Robinson acquainted with both guard and tackle spots.
Hopefully Saffold will anchor the right guard position from Day 1, but if Long isn’t ready for the start of the season, the coaching staff already knows that Saffold can handle left tackle. That kind of insurance is huge.
In that scenario, Davin Joseph would enter the starting lineup as the team’s right guard. While he struggled a year ago in Tampa, he was also coming off a 2012 season in which he missed every game due to a knee injury suffered in preseason. At worst, Joseph will be a shell of his former self. At best, he’s a former two-time Pro Bowler with loads of starting experience.
And there’s your depth.
Barrett Jones is another name worth monitoring over the next month. He fell behind at this time last year because of a serious foot injury suffered in Alabama’s win over Georgia in the SEC championship game. When he was finally able to practice, conditioning and strength were obvious issues. But he spent this past offseason in the weight room, which should pay dividends if he’s forced into the starting lineup at any of the interior positions.
Versatility and depth. Injuries can turn title contenders into .500 teams and .500 teams into cellar dwellers. It’s the teams that maximize their rosters by stocking them with young, promising talent and bargain free-agent signings that can withstand an onslaught of injuries. For the teams that don’t prepare themselves, they’ll be easily exposed for their lack of foresight.
It’s fair to wonder whether the Rams’ O-line can stay healthy as a unit for the entire season. It’s also comforting to know that the team has a “break glass here” plan in case the football gods somehow find another one of Saffold’s body parts to break.