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Rams still sorting through O-line depth

8/14/2014

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Slowly but surely, the St. Louis Rams are drawing closer to having their five projected starting offensive linemen available to play together.

It's a sight, that in this training camp, has only been apparent in early practice walk throughs and a couple of other reps. Left tackle Jake Long (knee), center Scott Wells (illness) and right guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) have missed various parts of camp, and when one has returned, another has departed.

 While it's unlikely Long will return Saturday against Green Bay, he's been taking almost all of the reps with the first-team offense in practice. Wells has been doing the same and could be in line to play against the Packers. Saffold is still out but is also expected to be back sooner than later.

Backups such as Barrett Jones, who is battling a back injury that has already cost him a chunk of camp and could keep him out for awhile, and Brandon Washington have also been unavailable.

As is the case with any injuries, there are corresponding opportunities available for the team's many young linemen. With Davin Joseph the only backup lineman with any noteworthy playing experience, the Rams have a few spots to fill and only a few more weeks to figure out who will earn them.

"We are light in numbers right now," line coach Paul Boudreau said. "The young guys have been getting a lot of work. The only real starter I had [last week] was Joe [Barksdale] and then Davin who had actually played NFL football. All the other guys, it was a great opportunity for them.

"So from that standpoint, it’s been really good. It’s going to make it easier to decide who seven, eight and nine is because you actually get to see them play, practice and they are getting a lot of reps."

Reps are certainly not lacking for those linemen jockeying for position on the 53-man roster. Tackles Sean Hooey and Mike Person played 56 and 54 snaps against New Orleans last week, the most on the team. Center Demetrius Rhaney, tackle Mitchell Van Dyk and guard Travis Bond weren't far behind with 42, 42 and 35 snaps, respectively.

But the simple act of playing won't be enough to secure roster spots in a crowded group. Boudreau, coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are looking for standouts who also bring a certain amount of versatility.

Person has been a prime example of making an impression by his willingness to line up anywhere. He's played both tackle spots, left guard and, for the first time this week, actually worked on snapping the ball at center.

Entering a season without much experienced depth is nothing new for Boudreau, who has made a career of coaching up unknowns. Given the injury histories of three of his starters and the youth of the backups, there's still reason for concern.

"It does [concern me] right now," Boudreau said. "But I think after four preseason games, they are going to play a lot of football and the good thing is we have been cross training guys. ... It’s good to get it done early so when they get in those emergency situations, it’s not for the first time."

Even with Wells, Long and Saffold expected to get some work in the preseason, there will still be plenty of time for the other linemen to make a case. The Rams have gone heavy on offensive linemen in the past, carrying 10 on the opening day roster and as many as 11 at other points in 2013.

That may not be necessary this year considering the presence of versatile pieces like Saffold and Robinson, who can play inside and out. Assuming there are three or four spots available behind the starting five and Joseph, center Tim Barnes is the only other lineman who has starting experience in the league. He looks to be in good shape, but there's a lot to sort out amongst a group including Jones, Hooey, Person, Washington, Bond, Rhaney and Van Dyk.

"I just try to tell them you are in pro football," Boudreau said. "Pro football doesn’t just mean you get paid to be a pro. Pro football means you do stuff that coach doesn’t have to tell you to do. Get noticed in the right way."