- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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The workout portion of the NFL scouting combine begins on Feb. 22 with the entire football world closely watching every prospect's every move. With that in mind, we're counting down the top five things the Rams and their fans should be watching as the NFL converges on Indianapolis.
Free agency officially begins on March 11 with a small window for teams to begin negotiating with targeted players coming just before that. But the NFL scouting combine also serves as a sort of unofficial kickoff to the free-agent period as team executives and agents huddle in the same city for the better part of a week.
For the St. Louis Rams, free agency will go a long way in determining the shape of one key area of the team in 2014. Starting linemen Rodger Saffold and Chris Williams are scheduled to become free agents and guard Harvey Dahl and Scott Wells are potential salary cap casualties.
With all of those moving pieces on the current roster and the best prospects in this year's draft converging in Indianapolis, it brings us to the final pressing combine question for the Rams: What will become of the offensive line in 2014 and will any prospect do enough to break the nearly two-decade drought of Rams coach Jeff Fisher not taking an offensive lineman in the first round?
Rams general manager Les Snead and Fisher have made it clear that they'd like to retain Saffold if possible. That will depend largely on how the market shakes out for him and how much the Rams are willing to spend on a player who has showed great promise as a guard but has struggled to stay healthy. Interest in Saffold could only increase after teams tag their own valuable offensive linemen.
Theoretically, the Rams could bring Williams back and/or find a way to cap Wells or Dahl at a lower price. Regardless, it's a safe bet that the Rams are going to enter the new league year in need of more reinforcements for the offensive line.
Snead has vaguely referenced a "plan" for addressing the offensive line but, like every other position on the roster, declined to provide clues as to what that might entail. The Rams spent big money to land left tackle Jake Long in free agency last offseason. This year, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of difference making linemen heading to free agency pending the players receiving tags.
More likely, the Rams are probably going to have to invest more draft capital in the offensive line than they have in the recent past. Since Fisher and Snead took over in 2012, they've used just two picks on offensive linemen, both on guards, and none higher than the fourth-round choice of Barrett Jones in 2013.
The issue figures to be more pressing this year and the Rams are probably going to be vetting the draft's best line prospects in Indianapolis. A pair of tackle prospects with strong ties to Fisher and Snead currently sit atop most of the media draft boards in the form of Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.
Robinson is considered the player with the most upside, perhaps the most of any player in the draft regardless of position, and played with Fisher's son, Trent, for the Tigers. Auburn is also Snead's alma mater, meaning if nothing else, the general manager has seen him play multiple times this year when cheering on his team.
Matthews has his ties to the Rams too and is regarded as one of the safest picks in the draft. Matthews' father, Bruce, was a bedrock of Fisher's offensive line for the Oilers/Titans for many years and that pedigree will be hard to ignore. Both players are expected to show well at the combine but could do something to boost their respective stocks.
Robinson will need to show the short area quickness and agility that can help project his ability as a pass blocker after getting few one-on-one edge blocking opportunities for the Tigers. Matthews would do well to show some power in the bench press and athleticism in testing to show that he's not simply a finished product without much ceiling.
Beyond that duo, there are plenty of other talented linemen expected to work on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Notre Dame's Zack Martin, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and Virginia's Morgan Moses are among the top tackles who will be in Indianapolis. On the interior, the area the Rams are almost certain to need reinforcements, guards such as UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson, Stanford's David Yankey, Clemson's Brandon Thomas and Baylor's Cyril Richardson could also draw the attention of the Rams.
Teams are limited to 60 15-minute interviews during the combine but generally speak to nearly every prospect in some capacity during the week. Don't be surprised if the Rams use plenty of their time with offensive linemen in Indianapolis.
2hField Yates and Rich Cimini