The transition from college star to NFL starter is never easy, even for a guy as big as 6-foot-8, 321-pound rookie tackle Rob Havenstein.
So although the second-round pick and former Wisconsin All-American is penciled in as the starting right tackle and continues to take nearly every rep with the first-team offense in training camp, he is taking nothing for granted.
“With the starting roles and everything, obviously that hasn’t been announced and my first objective right now, whether you guys believe it or not, is to make the team,” Havenstein said. “That’s obviously going to be goal No. 1 and until that point comes, that’s my first objective. Any way I can help the team ... right tackle, left tackle, guard, I’ll learn how to snap. Anywhere I can help I’ll be more than happy to get out there and just be able to get on the field.”
The Rams drafted Havenstein (pronounced HAY-ven-stine) and rookie right guard Jamon Brown (third round pick) realizing they are taking a calculated risk with two rookies on the right side of the line. There’s also going to be a new center as well, with second-year pro Greg Robinson at left tackle and veteran Rodger Saffold at left guard.
Brown (6-6, 323) played primarily at tackle at Louisville, so he’s dealing with learning a new position as well as transitioning to the pros.
“It’s a huge difference from playing on an island to playing in a phone booth, so I’m really trying to get my mentality switched to kind of understand the inside and be a good interior offensive lineman,” he said of sliding over to guard from tackle.
One potential relief valve is Garrett Reynolds, who can play guard or tackle and is in his seventh NFL season. The nephew of former Rams and 49ers linebacker Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds was signed as a free agent in March.
But for now, Rams coach Jeff Fisher seems fairly confident in his pair of young linemen.
“You can look at our right tackle and our right guard right now and they look like they’ve been here for a while — and that’s good,” Fisher said. “That’s good to have that feeling inside that you have confidence in both Rob Havenstein and ‘JB’ (Jamon Brown) ,that they can line up and play and it shows with the pads on. They’re doing that, so there’s a lot of good things going on.”
Fisher is asked almost daily about starting two rookies on the offensive line.
“We’ve been talking since we got here about, ‘Gosh, how nice would it be to be able to go out and draft three or four offensive linemen in the same draft?’” he said. “This year we were able to do that, and five with (rookie tackle) Isaiah [Battle]. It’s an area that we had to focus on. It’s an area that we expect to be good for a long time. I can’t tell you how it’s going to unfold right now or who is going to end up starting. But like we said, we have no concern about starting young people up front. If they are playing, they are ready to play.”
Havenstein blocked for All-American running back Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin, with Gordon going to San Diego in the first round of the NFL Draft. Now Havenstein could have a chance to block for former Georgia standout Todd Gurley once Gurley is fully cleared to return from knee surgery.
“They’re both great backs,” said Havenstein, known as an exceptional run blocker with the Badgers. “They both do things exceptionally well. I’ve known Melvin for a lot of years and I’m just getting to know Todd. I’m excited to get to know him further and play alongside him.”
The depth of an NFL playbook can take a toll on any rookie, but things can be particularly tough for offensive linemen. Havenstein was an exceptional run blocker at Wisconsin who needs work on his pass blocking, something NFL defensive ends — including those on the Rams — will be schooling him on for the rest of this season.
The goal for Havenstein is not letting it get to him mentally or physically.
“I would say I don’t get too frustrated anyway,” Havenstein said. “The best guys are the most even-keeled guys, so every day they are the same person. That’s kind of what I want to strive to be every single day. I want to be a good, solid offensive lineman every single day.
“I don’t want to be great one day and then bad one day. I don’t want to make that roller-coaster ride. I want to be the same.”
Coaches are constantly giving Havenstein and the other rookie linemen feedback both on the field and through film breakdown and analysis.