- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While he hasn’t been able to eliminate the memories entirely, Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford is doing his best to keep the first part of his first season in St. Louis as far from the front of his mind as possible.
Asked to transition from a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defensive tackle in signing a four-year, $24 million deal with the Rams on March 17, 2012, Langford didn’t exactly transition as quickly as he’d hoped.
The change in position and adjustment to a new scheme weren’t the only reasons for Langford’s early struggles.
“I hate watching probably the first half of the season,” Langford said. “It’s not an excuse, but I was dealing with coming off the high ankle (injury) and new position, new scheme. I had a lot going on but as we got deeper into the year, I started feeling more comfortable.”
After playing the five-technique position for Miami for most of his first four seasons in the NFL, Langford’s focus was usually centered on reading and reacting. The main responsibilities for his position included handling two gaps, taking on multiple blockers and allowing for linebackers to come up and make the plays.
The Rams had something else in mind when he signed to help a defense that had finished 31st in the league in run defense and mustered just four sacks, three quarterback pressures and seven quarterback hits from the defensive tackle position in 2011.
Moving into the 4-3 defensive scheme brought to St. Louis by coach Jeff Fisher, Langford found himself in a position to be more aggressive and make some impact plays.
The only problem was that he first had to unlearn the basic tenets of his old position before he could fully embrace his new job.
“This 4-3 is more getting upfield, getting across the line of scrimmage instead of two-gapping,” Langford said. “In a 3-4, you are holding guys up and letting the linebackers get the tackles. It takes a grown man to play there in a 3-4.”
The early returns last season didn’t bring much of an upgrade over the subpar group of defensive tackles the Rams employed in 2011. Langford had just three solo tackles in the first five games of the season and did not post a sack.
Much like rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Langford took awhile to get fully comfortable and adjusted to the middle of the defensive line. It wasn’t until the Dec. 9 game at Buffalo that Langford registered his first sack.
By the end of the season, things seemed to settle down a bit and Langford was more productive. He finished with 57 tackles and two sacks while playing 69 percent of the defensive snaps (third most among defensive linemen on the Rams) and starting all 16 games.
Despite playing a vital role for a defensive line that was the strength of the Rams' in 2012, there was some clamoring amongst fans for an upgrade in the offseason. Langford didn’t buy into any of the criticism.
“I try not to read the news clippings and blogs and things like that,” Langford said. “I can guarantee one thing, I am going to be better this year than I was last year.”
Realistically, a second year in the scheme should allow Langford to build on his finish to the 2012 season. Surrounded by ends such as Chris Long, Robert Quinn and William Hayes as well as Brockers, Langford should get plenty of one on one opportunities.
In this camp so far, Langford has had a couple of minor injury issues that have limited him in a couple of practices, but he says his limited days have been “precautionary.”
If Langford can stay healthy and take a step forward in his second year in the defense, the Rams’ defensive line could be even better than it was a year ago when it set the tone for a defense that tied for the league lead in sacks with Denver at 52.
“I’m more comfortable in the scheme,” Langford said. “I still have some work to do as far as footwork issues and things like that, but I get the 4-3 scheme now. The 3-4 is kind of out of my head. I might get caught reading every now and again, but I have got it down now.”
56mEric D. Williams