NFC West: Greg Robinson

Camp preview: St. Louis Rams

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Nick Wagoner examines the three biggest issues facing the St. Louis Rams heading into training camp.

Sam Bradford's status: It's a familiar refrain that will be repeated ad nauseam for much of the offseason and camp, but it's the most basic and simple truth about the Rams in 2014 and the future: They'll go as far as quarterback Sam Bradford can take them. On the bright side, Bradford appears to be on schedule for a return to health from his season-ending knee injury, and the Rams expect him to be close to or at full speed for the start of camp.

That means Bradford will get a third season in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense and the opportunity to get the Rams into the mix in the NFC West division. It's safe to assume the Rams won't ask Bradford to carry the freight for what will likely be a run-heavy offense, but they also will need more from Bradford than what was required of backup Kellen Clemens. The Rams have clearly abandoned the spread approach they were installing this time last year, but they will almost certainly be more balanced than they were after Bradford's injury in 2013.

The Gregg Williams effect: Much was expected of the Rams' defense in 2013 after it performed well enough to keep the team in games, especially divisional games, in 2012. But the group not only didn't take a step forward but regressed slightly under coordinator Tim Walton. So when the Rams had the opportunity to land Gregg Williams this offseason, they took it.

Now, the expectations are even higher after bringing Williams aboard and spending a first-round pick on defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Williams is expected to bring an array of exotic blitz packages and an aggressive approach to a defense that should be able to create consistent pressure. How that manifests itself in this training camp will go a long way toward determining the team's 2014 success.

Stability on the offensive line: The Rams made some major moves along the offensive line in the offseason in an effort to compete with the big, physical defensive lines around the NFC West. They used the No. 2 pick on Auburn's Greg Robinson and signed guard Rodger Saffold to a lucrative contract extension. On paper, an offensive line of (from left to right) Jake Long, Robinson, Scott Wells, Saffold and Joe Barksdale could be one of the better units in the league with a good mix of experience and potential.

But for the second straight year, that group faces the pressing question of whether it can retain some semblance of stability in the face of injury. The presumptive 2013 starting five played just 295 of the offense's 968 snaps, checking in just above 30 percent. Only three lines around the league spent less time together. Wells and Long are recovering from season-ending injuries, and although the Rams expect both players to be ready for the start of the season, it's fair to wonder how many games and what type of production they'll get. Saffold also has a lengthy injury history even though he has yet to suffer any serious ailments since moving to guard.

There are some intriguing young players behind the starting five, including Barrett Jones, Tim Barnes and Brandon Washington, but if the Rams are to be the powerful, run-heavy offense they aspire to be, they'll need the starting five in place as often as possible.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When it comes to the health of left tackle Jake Long, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher & Co. have consistently played the hits throughout the offseason.

They've repeatedly insisted that Long's rehabilitation from offseason surgery on his right anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament is coming along just fine and reiterated their faith that Long will be ready to go in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 7.

Long
At last week's organized training activities, Fisher offered an even more optimistic outlook for Long's expected return.

“Jake is coming along. He’s doing the individual stuff. Jake’s injury was a little bit later than Sam’s," Fisher said, referring to quarterback Sam Bradford. "We expect him back somewhere middle part of training camp.”

If Long is indeed able to return to practice on that sort of timetable, there's reason to believe he can be ready to take his usual spot at left tackle against Minnesota in the opener. That would allow him a few weeks to round into shape and test his mobility, perhaps even play a series or two in one of the final two preseason games.

In many cases, when it comes to injuries like Long's, it's common for teams to offer the standard lines about being ahead of schedule or, at least, on pace for a timely return. For what it's worth, Long had his surgery in late January, and although he isn't participating in OTAs, he is doing some work on the side.

But in this case, the Rams so far are doing more than offering optimistic lip service when it comes to Long. The team is following through on its belief in his rehab with how it's handling his vacant spot during OTAs.

With obvious left tackle fill-in options such as rookie Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold available to take the reps in Long's place during practice, Fisher and the Rams have made it clear they prefer not to disrupt the stability of the line at the four other positions. Robinson and Saffold are projected to start at left and right guard, respectively, and neither has extensive experience at those positions.

So instead of moving Robinson and/or Saffold around, Fisher prefers to keep them in their current spots to prepare them for the spots they're expected to start the season.

“We want to go through OTAs and most of camp with players playing the position they’ll play in the opener," Fisher said. "You assume Jake comes back, so we’ll just plug someone else in out there.”

So far, "someone else" has meant a rotation between younger, developmental tackles Mike Person and Sean Hooey. The Rams claimed Person from Seattle last season and thought enough of him to keep him on the roster throughout the season. Hooey was an undrafted free agent in 2013, but the Rams stashed him on the practice squad for the season. Like Person, Hooey is another player the team thinks has some future potential.

If worse comes to worst by the time the season begins, the Rams could simply slide Saffold over to left tackle, with someone like Davin Joseph or Barrett Jones ready to step in at guard. For now, their faith in Long's return persists.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams will officially open their version of organized team activities on Tuesday, making them the last in the league to do so.

Tuesday's session is not open to the media, so we won't get a chance to see the Rams on the field until the first open session on Thursday. But as the OTAs finally begin, here's some things I'll be looking for.

Bradford
Bradford
Whither Bradford: According to the team, quarterback Sam Bradford has been well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Bradford has been moving around and throwing for awhile now and there are realistic expectations he will participate in OTAs.

The question doesn't seem to be whether Bradford will participate but the extent of that participation. It's unlikely he'll be at 100 percent or be asked to do everything since there's no need to rush him back, but his presence will likely be felt. It's no secret 2014 is an important season for Bradford. Every rep counts but the last thing the Rams want to do is rush him and risk a possible setback to his return.

Long
Line dancing: The status of left tackle Jake Long participating in OTAs is up in the air. Long's surgery didn't take place until January, so it's only natural that he'd be further behind in his own knee rehab. The Rams have remained insistent that Long can and will be back for the regular-season opener but in the meantime, someone is going to have to take the snaps at left tackle.

The most obvious options on the roster are rookie Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold, who are projected to start the season at left and right guard, respectively. Indications from the Rams are that both players will get some reps at left tackle during OTAs and into training camp so the Rams can have a couple of options ready to go in the event that Long can't. We'll be sure to monitor how those reps are divvied up, and keep an eye out for Long to see if he does any work on the side during these early summer sessions.

Beyond that, there are plenty of other offensive line issues to watch, including the development of interior swingman Barrett Jones and the return to health of center Scott Wells.

Sorting out the secondary: The top five defensive backs heading into OTAs appear to be pretty well set with Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald at safety and Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner (nickel) expected to handle the primary duties in the secondary.

But the Rams have a lot to sort out beyond that group as they look to set the roster for next season. Assuming the Rams keep nine or 10 defensive backs, that would leave room for four or five more defensive backs. At corner, there will be plenty of competition amongst a group that includes Brandon McGee, E.J. Gaines, Greg Reid and some other youngsters including Marcus Roberson. At safety, names like Maurice Alexander, Matt Daniels, Cody Davis and Christian Bryant will jockey for position.

Williams' wrinkles: New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has spent most of the offseason in the lab coming up with ways to deploy his new players. But most of that has been based off film study without the benefit of seeing his players working up close on an actual football field.

OTAs offer Williams his first chance to do just that and make determinations on how he wants to go about using the talent in place. The majority of work in OTAs is centered on installation on both sides of the ball so much of the legwork is already done, but there is plenty of time for tweaking if, for example, Williams views his players' skill sets different than he first suspected.

Britt
Britt
Likewise, it will give the defense its first chance to get used to what Williams wants to do and get comfortable with what will likely be a more aggressive approach in 2014.

Receiver rundown: Aside from the free-agent addition of Kenny Britt, the Rams stood pat at wide receiver in the offseason, choosing to bet heavy that their young receiver corps will be up to the task of taking the next step up the developmental ladder.

Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis return to the fold. Much is expected from Givens, Austin, Bailey and Quick, and Britt will get a chance to make a positive first impression on the field. The competition appears mostly wide open, making receiver a position full of intrigue as we head toward training camp.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will likely come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities less than a week away, we take a look at where each position stands heading into next week. The next in the series continues today by examining the offensive line.

Who returns: Jake Long, Scott Wells, Rodger Saffold, Joe Barksdale, Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones, Brandon Washington, Sean Hooey, Mike Person

Who is new: Greg Robinson, Davin Joseph, Mitchell Van Dyk, Demetrius Rhaney, Abasi Salimu

Who is gone: Harvey Dahl, Shelley Smith, Chris Williams

Projected starters: Long, Robinson, Wells, Saffold, Barksdale

Pending competition: There's no position group on the roster with more possible flux than the offensive line. The starting five should be set but much will hinge on Long's health. If he's ready to go opening week, that starting five should be pretty well set. If not, the Rams will have to take a look at Robinson or Saffold at left tackle and plug Joseph in at the vacated guard spot. The real jockeying for position will come as the Rams evaluate their depth. Jones seems like a good bet to win a spot after the team used a fourth-round pick on him in 2013. The Rams went heavy on offensive linemen for most of last season, carrying double digits the majority of the time. If they do so again, there should be interesting battles on the interior among Joseph, Jones, Barnes, Washington and Rhaney and on the outside with Hooey, Person and Van Dyk. That's eight players probably competing for four or five spots at most. And the Rams could logically carry fewer linemen this year given the versatility and flexibility Saffold, Robinson and Jones provide.

Outlook: Much like last year, the potential for this group is such that it could be one of the league's best but with the caveat that remaining healthy will be the top priority. Long, Wells and Saffold have struggled with injury issues recently, problems that caused much of the line dancing the group had to do a year ago. Although the group managed to be mostly effective under the guidance of line coach Paul Boudreau, it struggled late in the season against the physical fronts of its NFC West brethren. To do battle with those defenses and be a more effective offense, the Rams will need less shuffling and more stability. For the long haul, only Robinson and Saffold seem to have clear spots. Long and Wells remain under contract beyond 2014 but the team could part ways with them after the year if they are unable to stay healthy and produce. Barksdale is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. In the ideal scenario, young players like Jones and Washington will develop further in 2014 and give the Rams more flexibility for the future. In the meantime, the Rams have a starting group with the talent to excel so long as they can stay on the field.

St. Louis Rams draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A wrap-up of the St. Louis Rams' draft.

Best move: Putting football aside, the Rams made a historic move in using the 249th overall pick on Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Sam became the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL. There will be plenty of time to discuss how he fits the defense, his chances of making the roster and everything else a draft pick entails. But for now, the Rams should be applauded for taking an important step that will have a lasting impact well beyond the confines of a football field.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Rams strengthened both lines with their two first-round picks, starting with offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 overall.
Best move, II: Using their two first-round picks to bulk up on the lines. The Rams could have gone many ways with the Nos. 2 and 13 picks in the first round, and there were other avenues that would have been fine, but they showed a lot of self-awareness by staying at those spots and grabbing Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The NFC West is the toughest, most physical division in football. Most games in this league are won up front, but all games in the NFC West are. It's not going to be easy to outmuscle the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, but the Rams proved capable of it two seasons ago before taking a step back last season. The first two picks are a sign they don't intend to have their lunch money stolen as often in 2014.

Riskiest move: Waiting until the sixth round to take a quarterback. There, the Rams selected Southern Methodist's Garrett Gilbert. In the run up to the draft, the Rams insisted that not only did they want to get a quarterback, they wanted to land someone capable of pushing starter Sam Bradford. Apparently, they didn't feel too strongly about that. The Rams should be set at the backup spot with free-agent addition Shaun Hill on the roster, but the future of the position remains up in the air. Bradford has two years remaining on his contract but needs to prove his durability and produce at a higher level for a full season before the team commits to him for the long haul. It's not impossible for Gilbert to develop into a solid backup, but counting on him to provide a possible long-term solution or push Bradford for the job is folly.

Most surprising move: Spending a third-round pick on running back Tre Mason. This isn't to say the Rams didn't need help at the position. Starter Zac Stacy has had issues with minor injuries costing him a series here or a quarter there. Benny Cunningham has flashed potential, but the sample size is small. This isn't anything against Mason, who is a good back with outstanding college production. It's just more of a surprise that the team went with a back with more pressing needs to be filled. The Rams insist Mason was too much value to resist, but it's fair to wonder whether they could have waited to get a back capable of contributing. After all, they landed Stacy in the fifth round a year ago.

File it away: Keep an eye on Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, the team's first sixth-round pick, taken at No. 188 overall. The Rams drafted Lamarcus Joyner to handle the nickel duties, and he'll step in right away at that spot, but Gaines played outside on both sides and showed the flexibility to play inside for the Tigers. That versatility should give Gaines a chance to contribute right away and potentially become the primary backup at all three spots. Gaines started 37 games in his career, including a strong performance against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans in a 2013 matchup. Evans had just four catches for 8 yards in that game. Although A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn't at full strength, Gaines earned rave reviews for that performance from scouts in the pre-draft process. Gaines was a sixth-round pick, so expectations won't be too high, but that also puts him in position to exceed the ones that exist.

Rams sit still to add quality

May, 10, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the past two years under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the St. Louis Rams have undergone a complete reconstruction of a roster that was one of the worst in the league.

On Friday night, the Rams offered two more indications that they are saying goodbye to frantically moving down in the draft to accumulate picks and hello to a brave new world in which the chronically trade-happy decision makers can sit still and simply select the best player available.

"It's been, I don't want to say easy, but it's been good," Fisher said. "The board is good, the value is there and we feel good about where we are and we also feel good about finishing strong tomorrow."

The Rams threw their first curveball of this year's draft Friday night when they opted to pass on more obvious needs and choose a running back in the third round.

Not that the Rams couldn't use another back, but the selection of Auburn running back Tre Mason with the 75th overall pick was a prime example of the prism through which the team now views itself. Almost since arrival, Fisher, Snead and most others associated with the Rams quietly held to the idea that 2014 would be the team's breakthrough season.

That vow moved closer to a promise this offseason as the previously silent notion became an open discussion. A mostly inactive free-agent period offered one clue that the Rams believe the current roster is close to taking the next step.

The first three rounds of this draft has offered more evidence.

With other positions of more clear need available to them with the 75th pick, the Rams selected Mason to add to a backfield in which Zac Stacy, the team's leading rusher a year ago, already resides.

When asked why the Rams opted for Mason with the third-round choice, Fisher offered a telling response in making it clear that Mason was too much value to turn down.

"That was the nature of the pick," Fisher said. "That's where we are right now is we just couldn't pass him up."

In the Rams' first two drafts under Snead and Fisher, the team made six draft-day trades, moving down four times and up twice. Aside from a late-round deal in 2013 to land Stacy, all of those deals have been in the early rounds of the draft.

The idea was simple: accumulate as many picks as possible even if it meant sacrificing possible quality in favor of quantity. If the success of a draft pick is a veritable coin flip, the Rams wanted to flip as many coins as possible.

The progress on the field has been evident as a team that won 15 games over the previous five seasons won 14 the past two years but it still has been far from enough. A lack of true difference makers the caliber of star defensive end Robert Quinn has kept the Rams from reaching the next level.

Nobody knows for sure whether players like Mason, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or defensive back Lamarcus Joyner will turn into that type of player, but the stay-at-home attitude the Rams have adopted for most of this draft would indicate they believe roster spots are hard to come by and game changers were there to be had in their original spots.

Perhaps in fear of developing a nervous tick by having to wait so long to make some sort of deal, Fisher and Snead did make one deal on Friday night, trading up three spots to nab Joyner at No. 44 overall before Tennessee could pick him. Even that move indicates the Rams are placing a premium on the player rather than a pile of picks.

It's a trend that will continue Saturday when the Rams make their remaining seven choices.

"We're going to look at our roster, who fills a role and whatever role that is, if it helps us become a more successful team, that's kind of what you try to do," Snead said. "You'll have fun with the last picks."

For the first time in awhile, the Rams' insistence that they're close is backed by their actions. Only time will tell if they're right.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made a habit the past two years of continuing to perpetuate the blockbuster trade they made with the Washington Redskins by making additional deals.

In fact, in the first two years with Les Snead as general manager and Jeff Fisher as coach, the Rams had made at least one trade with each of their three first-round picks, not to mention other deals made in later rounds.

But the Rams managed to sit still, not fidget and make some picks in Thursday night's first round. In selecting Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick, the Rams added the final piece of the puzzle from the trade with the Redskins.

While we won't be able to fully assess the deal for some time, the Rams certainly came away with quite a haul when you factor in all the pieces they have added. Of course, if quarterback Robert Griffin III goes on to a big career, the Redskins won't mind the cost. All of that is to be determined.

In the meantime, here's a breakdown of what the two sides received in the trade:

Washington received: QB Robert Griffin III

St. Louis received: DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, G Rokevious Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Zac Stacy, OT Greg Robinson

As we sit here today, that means the Redskins got a starting quarterback. The Rams, meanwhile, got starters at defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, running back and offensive line with a receiver who could likely grab that role this year.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Much has been made of St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher's history of passing on offensive linemen in the first round as a head coach. Entering Thursday night, Fisher had held 17 picks in the first round as a head coach and never selected one in the opening round.

But Fisher long insisted that his avoidance of linemen in the first was not intentional and more a matter of circumstance. His Titans/Oilers teams had players like Brad Hopkins entrenched in their spots.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Rams pursued avenues to land Zack Martin, which would've given them two offensive linemen from their first-round haul.
On Thursday night, Fisher bucked the trend and darn near blew it away completely by taking not one but two big uglies for his offensive line.

After using the No. 2 overall pick on Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the Rams were surprised to see a few of their favorite targets tumble down the board to their second pick at No. 13. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was ultimately too much value for the Rams to pass up but had he been gone, the Rams would have gone the way of San Francisco circa 2010 and doubled down on offensive linemen.

The target was Notre Dame's Zack Martin, a player the Rams had been eyeing as a possible pick for some time. Even after passing on Martin, though, the Rams almost made the boldest of moves to add him to the haul that already included Robinson and Donald.

“We actually made an effort just a few minutes ago to go back up to try to get Martin but we were unsuccessful,” Fisher said.

After the Rams took Donald, Chicago drafted Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Pittsburgh grabbed Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Rams commenced conversations with Baltimore at No. 17 about moving up for Martin.

That would have meant a move from the second round at No. 44 overall and probably cost the Rams a boatload of picks or, perhaps, a first-round pick in 2015.

"It would’ve been pricey but worth it," Fisher said. "It was a good pick for the Cowboys.”

Dallas quickly stamped out that possibility by drafting Martin at No. 16. Another player the Rams really liked at No. 13, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, remained on the board and also had the Rams' attention but the Ravens took him right after Martin went to the Cowboys.

“They all went," general manager Les Snead said. "I had left and then I came back and said, 'Mosley went right after Martin.' When we got down to two, it was those three. Donald was No. 1 and it worked out for us.”

As for a possible trade with the No. 2 pick, Snead said nothing ever got too serious though Buffalo, which eventually traded up to No. 4 from No. 9, did inquire.

"They were probably the one team that was the most motivated," Snead said.

Rams muscle up for NFC West

May, 8, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the roughest neighborhood in the NFL, the NFC West, you're either the bully or the one being bullied. There's no in-between.

After sitting still at Nos. 2 and 13 to make their picks, it's clear the St. Louis Rams would like a change in role.

Eschewing their annual tradition of making first-round trades and the almost two-decade history of coach Jeff Fisher not taking an offensive lineman in the first round, the Rams dedicated their Thursday night to adding players who are more likely to take your lunch money than surrender it.

As widely predicted, St. Louis took Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2. And in a move that came as a great surprise even to them, the Rams chose Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th pick. Robinson was the first offensive tackle selected and Donald the first defensive tackle.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesGreg Robinson is likely to begin his NFL career on the inside at guard.
The explanation for the moves didn't come with much sizzle but there's plenty of steak.

"We felt like we definitely needed to address both sides of the ball upfront," Fisher said. "I really felt like this was the best thing for our football team right now."

General manager Les Snead put a finer point on it.

"Football teams, you build from the inside out," Snead said. "I always say that's when you are building your foundation. At the end of the day, when you lay your foundation for your skyscraper it's probably the least exciting thing that you do but that's the thing that holds that skyscraper up for a lot of years. But it was definitely a strategy to say 'You know what, we're going to get our foundation stronger' and I think that's going to help us."

This draft came with nobody bigger, badder or more equipped to do battle in the NFC West than Robinson. At 6-foot-5, 332 pounds, Robinson is the football version of Deebo from the movie "Friday." He takes what he wants when he wants it, especially in the running game.

While Robinson's pass protection will need refining, he'll have plenty of time to get it right under offensive line coach Paul Boudreau as he's likely to begin his NFL career on the inside at guard. For a team that finished the season getting owned upfront by Seattle to the tune of 18 yards on 13 carries, Robinson is a much-needed hammer.

"We felt like Greg was a piece of the puzzle that's going to help us control that line of scrimmage," Snead said. "In our division, you have got to be physical. All three of those teams have really good front sevens."

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicOpponents can expect Aaron Donald to make himself a presence in their offensive backfields.
Donald isn't as physically imposing as Robinson but wreaks plenty of havoc of his own. Donald uses quickness off the ball and strong hands to spend large chunks of time in the offensive backfield. Donald finished 2013 with 11 sacks and a nation-leading 28.5 tackles for loss.

Most expected Donald to go in the top 10 but the Rams had him in their top eight players, making him too good to pass on at No. 13.

While defensive tackle wasn't the most pressing need, the Rams did lack a three-technique capable of pushing the pocket consistently. The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald is one of the rare prospects with natural skills in that realm.

Adding a fourth first-round pick to an already strong defensive line might seem excessive but to that, Snead offered three simple words.

"Feed the beast," Snead said. "Feed the beast."

Snead was referring specifically to the defensive line but he might as well have been talking about the team at large.

The Rams still have plenty of work to do to make up ground in the rough and tumble NFC West but Thursday's picks offered proof the Rams don't plan on being pushed around anymore.
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The pick: Greg Robinson, offensive tackle, Auburn

My take: This was something of an obvious pick for the Rams, who needed some major reinforcements for the offensive line. There is no bigger addition than the 6-foot-5, 332-pound Robinson. Known as a dominant run-blocker, Robinson will take some time to step in and help on the outside, but the Rams could easily put him on the Jonathan Ogden plan and play him at guard before he moves outside to tackle. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is known as one of the best line coaches in the league, and though Robinson is a bit raw in pass protection, Boudreau is just the man to help him reach his potential. In the meantime, Robinson's reputation as a bully in the run game is the ideal fit for what the Rams want to be offensively. Jeff Fisher and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer want to run the ball first and foremost, and Robinson should allow them to do it against the dominant defenses in the NFC West division.

Fisher's first: Much has been made of Fisher's apparent avoidance of offensive linemen in the first round in his nearly two decades as a head coach. Fisher has made 17 first-round picks in his career without drafting an offensive lineman, by far the most in the modern NFL (since 1967). The next-highest is Steve Mariucci with 11. However, Fisher long maintained that he didn't have an aversion to drafting linemen in the first. His teams in Houston and Tennessee were loaded with top tackles such as Brad Hopkins for many years which mitigated the need for an offensive lineman early, especially a tackle. With Robinson on board, Fisher clearly hopes his newest addition can enjoy a similar career.

What's next: The Rams have another first-round pick at No. 13. This pick was the first the Rams have made under Fisher and general manager Les Snead in the first round without making a trade. Don't be surprised if they find a deal at No. 13.
Greg RobinsonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn's Greg Robinson is one of three offensive tackles the Rams will consider for the No. 2 pick.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams could easily throw a curveball tonight with the No. 2 overall pick or in a trade down from that spot, but for now most signs point to the team using their early selection on one of the draft's top offensive tackles.

It's a group that includes Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan, perhaps in that order. All three are rated highly, and one NFC personnel director told me he believes all three players are better than any of the players that went in the tackle-heavy top five of the 2013 NFL draft.

Matthews
Lewan
Robinson has been openly compared to Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Matthews has, of course, been compared to his Hall of Fame father. Lewan has drawn comparisons to current Rams tackle and four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long. Heady company across the board, especially in the case of the first two.

So if you are the Rams and you are almost certain to have your choice from that trio at No. 2, how do you go about choosing which one is best?

For most of the pre-draft process, Matthews has been labeled the polished player with some upside, essentially making him the "safest" choice of the group. Robinson is considered the player with the highest ceiling, an athletic, dominant run blocker with the tools to become a good pass protector, but with the knowledge that he'll take some time in that area. Lewan is a sort of happy medium between the two, possessing outstanding athleticism for his size, and a certain amount of polish as well.

So let's operate under the assumption that the Rams have those tackles graded closely. How do they weigh upside versus polish?

“That discussion would be solved by looking at your depth chart and your roster, where your holes are, where your spots are," Fisher said. "You’ve got a guy that you want that, as you say, is more polished, I’m not putting words in your mouth but you would assume that he would come in and play sooner than the other one that may need a redshirt year, need some time. If you’ve got two guys that would vary a little bit, it would be really dependent on the need spot on your roster.”

In the case of the offensive line, the Rams could use someone capable of playing right away. Entering an important 2014 season, they need more than just contribution, they need production, especially from a potential No. 2 overall pick.

The Rams remain hopeful that Long will be ready to go at the start of the regular season, and they have Joe Barksdale available for the right tackle spot. Rodger Saffold will play one guard spot and Scott Wells is penciled in at center. That leaves a guard job open, but a top tackle could also play the right side to start.

Robinson and Matthews both project as capable of handling guard duties for a year or two before moving to tackle, similar to what Baltimore did with Jonathan Ogden. Lewan is a more natural tackle, but could also probably play inside if he had to.

From there, there are connections to be drawn to all of the tackles with the current Rams regime. Obviously, Fisher goes way back with Matthews, having coached his father in Houston/Tennessee. Robinson played with Fisher's son Trent at Auburn, which doubles as the alma mater of general manager Les Snead. Lewan maintains a close relationship with Long.

All three players figured to land in the top 10.

“I think there’s a chance," Fisher said. "I would assume that those three players, they’re going to be productive and somewhat high picks.”

In the ideal scenario, the Rams could trade down and land one of the tackles after picking up some extra picks. Robinson will likely be drafted first of the three, and if the Rams wanted Matthews they would probably not be able to go any lower than No. 6, though he could go as high as No. 4 to Cleveland. Lewan figures to linger a little longer and would be a solid prize if the Rams got a big offer to move further down.

Determining who the Rams favor here is a guessing game, but in the end, the Rams' preference for taking upside over the safe pick, as they did with the likes of Michael Brockers, Brian Quick and Janoris Jenkins, seems likely to win out leaving Robinson narrowly edging out his competition.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- On Tuesday afternoon, I joined my 31 NFL Nation colleagues in participating in our mock draft.

The mock draft allowed for trades and was predicated on what we think the teams we cover will do rather than what we should do. The results, with a surprise at the top, allowed for a some curveballs.

We discussed each pick in the chat and I offered some explanations for my rationale behind taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald with picks 2 and 13, respectively, there.

But to clear things up, here's a few leftover thoughts on each pick:
  • The Rams could go a lot of different ways at No. 2 with Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins among the options. And yes, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel would fit into that mix as well. But ultimately, I believe the Rams, if they can't make a trade and Jadeveon Clowney is off the board, will take Robinson. He's the type of hammer they'd love to add to their smash mouth offensive ideology and could become the long-term answer at left tackle after spending a season at guard (or right tackle). The Rams ran the ball well for most of the season in 2013 but they struggled mightily against the stout defenses of Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona in three road trips at the end of the year. Having Robinson should help them take on those physical defenses.
  • With the Donald pick, it simply was a matter of taking the player that was the best player on the board and too much value to pass on. But also, just because the perception is there that the Rams don't need a defensive tackle, they've showed a ton of interest in the position in the run up to the draft. They would particularly like to have a three-technique who can get after the quarterback. Donald fits the bill and would add a whole new element to an already excellent defensive line.
  • For the record, I don't expect Donald to fall to 13. I'll have more thoughts on more realistic possibilities on Thursday.
  • No, those two picks aren't sexy, they might not draw rave reviews or grades and I would personally take Watkins at 2 and roll the dice that a top tackle is there at 13 (Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the only one available in this scenario). But this is the NFC West division. Win the line of scrimmage or die trying.
I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Tuesday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began the day with a look at the wisdom in using a first-round pick on a quarterback to have a chance at exercising the fifth-year option on one. ... Next, we continued our prospect profiles with a look at Mizzou running back Henry Josey. ... In the second to last part of the draft preview series, we turned our attention to the group of safeties. ... After that, I provided some quick hit thoughts on the Rams and quarterback Johnny Manziel. ... After the Rams pre-draft news conference, I offered the thoughts of the Rams' decision makers on Manziel and Bradford.

Elsewhere:

Good read from David Fleming on Manziel's image rehabilitation via Instagram.

At 101sports.com, Chris Mortensen discusses the Manziel to the Rams rumors.

In the same corner of cyberspace, Randy Karraker makes the case for the Rams to take Watkins.

At stltoday.com, columnist Bryan Burwell writes the Rams must go with a tackle not a quarterback.

Bernie Miklasz weighs in on Manziel-Mania.

Former Ram Marshall Faulk picked Manziel and Martin with the two Rams picks in the NFL Network mock draft.

NFL.com names Snead as one of seven general managers under pressure going into the draft.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In what has become sort of a St. Louis Rams tradition, the team is sending a large contingent of primary NFL draft decision-makers back on the road to take a final look at some top prospects.

The NFL mandated teams complete their top 30 pre-draft visits by last Sunday, meaning the only way to see players up close is to go to them on their college campuses for private workouts. It's something coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have done in each of their first two years in St. Louis and are doing again with one week before the NFL draft.

Earlier in the week, we reported the team was planning to visit with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. More reports surfaced Wednesday evening indicating the Rams are putting more miles on owner Stan Kroenke's private plane.

Topping the list is what is expected to be a Friday visit to College Station, Texas, where the team will work out wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Rams have made no secret of their interest in the first two players but Manziel's name has been popping up more frequently lately. The Rams are not going to take a quarterback at No. 2 but they sure wouldn't mind a team trading up to grab Manziel. And if he surprisingly slips to No. 13, Manziel can't be ruled out as a possibility for the Rams, though they would probably again look to trade first with a team looking for the quarterback.

Before heading to Texas A&M, the Rams will spend Thursday at Alabama where they are expected to put McCarron through the paces. The team could also look at tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the primary purpose is to spend time with McCarron, a possible second-round choice to fit the team's need for a young quarterback.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen also reported the Rams' barnstorming tour would take them to Notre Dame, Tennessee and Ohio State. Visits to South Bend and Columbus would be no surprise given the team's pre-draft interest in Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. But it's believed that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Paul Boudreau are also part of the traveling party, which would indicate a chance for a closer look at Fighting Irish offensive lineman Zack Martin and Buckeyes tackle Jack Mewhort.

A stop in Knoxville would also probably mean continued focus on the offensive line where the Volunteers have two prospects in tackles Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James.

Another report had the Rams making a stop at Michigan, where they'd almost certainly be visiting another top line prospect they like in tackle Taylor Lewan.

All of those workouts would go on top of the team's trip to Clemson where it worked out receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and quarterback Tajh Boyd last week.

Last year, the Rams took a series of late trips for workouts, including one to West Virginia where the team confirmed its interest in receiver Tavon Austin but also fell for fellow wideout Stedman Bailey. The Rams traded up to No. 8 for Austin and selected Bailey in the third round. In 2012, the Rams went on a tour of the nation's top receivers and became smitten with Brian Quick on a visit to Appalachian State. They drafted him in the second round.

Considering the sheer number of workouts the team is reportedly setting up, it's impossible to know which way it might be leaning when it comes to the draft. But it's probably a good idea to acknowledge that at least one and perhaps more of their early picks will come from the group mentioned above.
Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor LewanJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAuburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan are three top tackles the Rams could be considering in the May draft.

The key decision makers of the St. Louis Rams circa 2009 have long since departed but when it comes to the thought of taking a shot on an unfinished product at offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick, the bad memories are still fresh enough to make at least some Rams fans cringe.

That was the year the Rams used the No. 2 choice on Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, a converted tight end coming from a spread offense with a reputation as a ferocious run blocker but a work in progress as a pass protector. Sound familiar?

At least on paper, one can look at Auburn tackle Greg Robinson's scouting report and see a similar description save for the tight end part. The comparison surely won't play in the minds of the Rams' current brain trust, a group that had nothing to do with Smith's selection but it's fair to at least consider the flip side to Robinson's upside.

"To me, if you look at Robinson and having Jason Smith not that long ago come to St. Louis as the second overall pick out of Baylor, is that something that factors in here?" ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I don’t necessarily think so because I think Robinson comes out as the much better prospect, he’s the consensus No. 2, No. 3 guy in this draft. But does he need a little work before he settles in and becomes a great left tackle? Yes. But that could happen, that light could go on immediately, he’s that good a football player."

Smith lasted three injury-plagued seasons in St. Louis and bounced between the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints before his release left him without a team last August. Many of his problems were tied to an apparent lack of love for the game, a problem scouts say Robinson doesn't have.

As the Rams continue vetting the top three offensive tackles -- a group that includes Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan in addition to Robinson -- they'll have to weigh the downside of each prospect in addition to the potential.

Robinson probably has the highest ceiling of any of the trio but he also might have the lowest floor. In Auburn's offense, Robinson was the most feared run blocker in the college game but rarely had to pass protect. That isn't to say he can't do it, just that he hasn't done it much.

“Robinson, obviously, (is) very athletic," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s got a tremendous upside, probably has not taken as many snaps in a pro-style offense as Lewan, but very athletic, there’s flexibility, think he could move in and play guard or other tackle as well. It’s going to take him a little more time.’’

Matthews, in many ways, is the opposite. A polished pass protector with experience at both tackle spots, Matthews also comes with the famous bloodlines (he's the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce) that would seem to limit any potential downside he might have. It's unfair to say Matthews has reached his ceiling but he doesn't carry the same size and athleticism combination of Robinson, either.

Fisher coached the elder Matthews in his time with the Oilers/Titans and can see the similarities between the father and son.

"Bruce having played all the positions and having been selected to the Pro Bowl at all the positions, probably one of the more flexible offensive linemen to ever come out," Fisher said. "I think (Jake) has got some similar traits, we haven’t seen Jake play center yet, or guard, but athletically could do both I’m sure.’’

Like Matthews, Lewan also projects as a ready-made tackle capable of stepping in and limiting the risk in terms of his on-field projection. But Lewan will also have to answer some questions about some off-field red flags before the draft.

“(He's) just very well coached, very consistent, finishes plays, he’s what I think, what you see on tape is what I think everybody would look for in that type of tackle,’’ Fisher said.

Since the arrival of Fisher and general manager Les Snead in 2012, the Rams have had no problem choosing players who aren't as polished as other options. Much of that stems from their belief in a veteran coaching staff, but so far that has yielded mixed results. For every Michael Brockers who seems to be trending in the right direction there's a Brian Quick, who the team is still waiting on to produce consistently.

As with all draft prospects, there's no guarantee any of the tackles will pan out.

"Matthews isn’t the talent that Robinson is," Kiper said. "Matthews did have a couple of games in pass protection where he showed he needed a little work at left tackle. Remember he had come over from right tackle. Robinson the same thing. From that offense, he’s going to need a little bit of work but all of the skills are there. You look at Lewan, he’s probably the most ready to be a pure left tackle."

Should the Rams decide to choose one, they'll have to decide whether most ready is more valuable than long-term upside.

Ten Rams-related combine takeaways

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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ST. LOUIS -- The NFL scouting combine doesn't officially wrap up until Tuesday afternoon but my time in Indianapolis is over. As usual, the better part of the past week was an educational experience on a number of levels.

There are few times during the year when you get to be in the same place as every team's coaching staff, general manager, scouts and others who help in the decision-making process. Agents are also easy to find during combine week which helps serve as a sort of unofficial begin to free agency. With that in mind, here are 10 things I took away from the combine as they relate to the St. Louis Rams.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
AP Photo/Johnny VyIf the Texans pass on Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 pick, the Rams could be in a prime position to trade down.
-- Houston is holding its cards extremely close to the vest in terms of what it plans to do with the No. 1 overall pick. The Rams have their guesses but even coach Jeff Fisher admitted he was hoping to catch fellow Competition Committee member Rick Smith, who is also the general manager of the Texans, at a weak moment to find out what Houston plans. Without that knowledge, the Rams can plan for multiple contingencies but anything involving a trade down is going to be close to impossible unless the Texans tip their hand early.

-- Speaking of trade downs, it sounds like the best-case scenario for the Rams to get a decent package of picks to move down is for Houston to take Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. It's entirely possible the Rams would get the most in return from a team moving up to land South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Atlanta remains the most logical potential trade partner.

-- There's still plenty of time for a team to fall in love with a quarterback and want to move ahead of Jacksonville to secure one but as it stands, it doesn't sound like there's much consensus that any signal-caller is worth giving up much to get. As always, though, it only takes one team with one fascination for a move to happen.

-- I still believe the Rams would prefer to move down if the right opportunity presents itself. It's not realistic to think they could get the same return they did for the No. 2 pick in 2012 but a move down which could land them a player such as Clowney, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or even Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and extra picks seems like it's still the team's preferred method.

-- In talking to a handful of scouts and personnel types, there seems to be a consensus forming in terms of who the top 10 or 11 players are but not in how they would go. Clowney, Robinson, Matthews, Watkins, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Bortles, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans were the names I heard the most in those conversations. One player who might not be getting enough love is Mack. Didn't hear a single negative word about him all week though most seem to think he's a better scheme fit in a 3-4.

-- There were plenty of people who were down on the overall quality of the 2013 NFL draft. This year appears to be the opposite. Fisher and general manager Les Snead offered that it appears to be an extremely deep group at many positions. Good news for the Rams: It appears deepest on the offensive line (especially tackle), at wide receiver and at cornerback. The safety group leaves something to be desired beyond the top two or three, however.

-- It's no surprise but the Rams are serious about their efforts to retain offensive lineman Rodger Saffold. It's also no surprise that they want him to return as a guard, where Fisher thinks he could be "outstanding." Discussions to that end are ongoing but it's hard to see a scenario in which the Rams can prevent Saffold from testing the market without having to overpay. Even before Indy, multiple teams had made it clear they were interested in Saffold. Expect that interest to grow further. What the Rams do in the draft and the rest of free agency will hinge heavily on what becomes of Saffold.

-- Rumors of a much increased salary cap, possibly one as high as $132 million, should certainly help the Rams. If nothing else, it would allow them to make some moves in free agency without having to redo some contracts or outright release players they may want to keep. But in terms of spending, it's important to remember that every team realizes that windfall. There are going to be a lot of teams flush with salary-cap space this offseason.

-- One thing we've consistently discussed in this space is the difficulty of attempting to win big while playing in the current state of the NFC West division. From listening to Snead and Fisher speak, it's clear that is something they are factoring in when they approach the draft and offseason.

"We have a long way to go," Fisher said. "I think we're closing the gap a little bit. But every time you play a division game, you know what to expect."

-- The Rams are pleased with how some of their key injured players are recovering, especially quarterback Sam Bradford. The team expects Bradford to resume throwing relatively soon and doesn't have any concern about his being ready for next season. Snead also added that he is not losing sleep over the pending return of offensive tackle Jake Long, who is also coming back from a knee injury.

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