While there seems to be legitimate concern about three new starters on the St. Louis Rams offensive line, the man responsible for coaching everyone up says things are progressing well.
That would be veteran offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, in his sixth year with the Rams and 29th year in the NFL.
A line that projects to start two rookies in right tackle Rob Havenstein and right guard Jamon Brown, a second-year left tackle in Greg Robinson and a new starting center seems more like a patchwork quilt.
The first test is Friday night in Oakland in the preseason opener against the Raiders, then the Rams will stay in California to hold several joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys.
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“It’s not a project,” Boudreau said. “We have a bunch of young guys just learning how to play and the good thing is we drafted guys that are smart and tough. It’s kind of jelling together. It’ll be a good example to see how we’ve taught Friday night and the work against Dallas is going to be invaluable.
“We get tired of hitting ourselves and it’s a new defense, a new style of defense. The big thing is every day, just don’t take a step back — you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same. Just try to keep working hard and find the good things and point them out.”
Left guard Rodger Saffold has manned nearly every spot on the line during his six NFL seasons. He suddenly finds himself the veteran leader of an extremely young, but eager group.
“We’re starting to mesh pretty well,” Saffold said. “The big thing is just about ironing out the details, making sure we do the little things right so we can be able to help out the running game and the passing game.”
Brown admits things are coming at him quickly, but he enjoys the confidence shown in both he and Havenstein by the coaching staff.
“Just helping the team motivates me,” Brown said. “If they think it’s going to be two rookies on the right side, then we’ve got to step up to the plate and handle business. Regardless of when we came in the league or whether we’ve been here a year or five years, we still have to step up and make sure we do our job and play our roles.”
It’s not just about executing on the field for offensive linemen. There’s film study, fine-tuning techniques, gaining as much knowledge about the opponent as possible and dealing with blitzes and incredibly quick pass rushers.
Robinson’s transition to the NFL wasn’t the easiest last season as the Rams brought him along slowly despite selecting him with the second overall pick in 2014. Along with learning both the tackle and guard spots, Robinson also dealt with a high learning curve after coming to the NFL from a run-heavy offense at Auburn.
He made some starts at left guard before eventually moving to left tackle following an injury to former starter Jake Long.
Boudreau said Robinson has made quiet a jump from those early days of 2014.
“It’s like night and day,” Boudreau said. “Usually the biggest transition for a lineman is between that first year and the second year. The offseason is invaluable. You can’t see them until April anymore, but the fact that he was injured he was here every day, he was watching tape and it was really good for him because he was in the building.”
Run-blocking is still a strength for Robinson, but that’s understandable given the ground-oriented attack he played well in at Auburn.
“It’s well documented they had about six plays,” Boudreau said. “They had two slide protections and they had four runs - and two of the runs he didn’t block anybody because it was read-zone. It was all new to him and we had to start from scratch. We had him at guard and it was probably a disservice to him.
“But the good thing for him was he learned how to use his hands better because he was at guard, because when you have Justin Smith on your head ... you better get your hands up because he’s going to make you look bad.”
While the Rams may need more time before choosing a starting center from the group that includes Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Demetrius Rhaney, they feel Havenstein (second round pick) and Brown (third round pick) are a big part of their future.
“Every day they do something to impress me,” Boudreau said. “Rob doesn’t say much. He’s serious as a heart attack. He and Jamon are working really well together; Jamon is physical as hell. He was at tackle (in college), but he’s really suited to be a guard. He’s got great quickness.
“Playing against (Rams star) Aaron (Donald) every day has helped him out as far as leverage and balance, because Aaron doesn’t take a play off. I even threw him at left guard yesterday just to see him pull and he pulled around on a power and just blew it up. So he gives me some flexibility (being) able to play on the left side as well.”