St. Louis Rams: Joe Barksdale

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The 2014 NFL season is nearly complete which means it's that time of year again when mock drafts begin popping up in all corners of cyberspace.

On Wednesday, it was ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay weighing in with his NFL Mock Draft version 1.0. As it stands, the St. Louis Rams would be picking No. 12 in the first round.

Clearly, that would take them out of the running for a top quarterback, the position that should be the team's top priority in the offseason. With that in mind, McShay moved on to what I would consider to be the Rams' second-biggest need: the offensive line. McShay sent Miami offensive tackle Ereck Flowers to the Rams with his pick.

McShay offered this explanation:

"Flowers is under the radar right now but he'll be well-known by April. His pad level is an issue, but he has a massive frame, moves well and is a finisher."

I'm not entirely sold the Rams would spend yet another first-round pick on an offensive tackle but there's a strong chance they will need to add to the line one way or another. If it's a tackle, that likely means that right tackle Joe Barksdale has moved on in free agency. Both sides have expressed some level of interest in Barksdale staying in St. Louis but much of that will depend on where the market goes.

Either way, bolstering the offensive line would be a solid move for the Rams.


A roundup of Wednesday's Rams stories appearing on ... In the Ram-blings, we opened the day with a look at Mel Kiper Jr.'s ranking of the rookies. ... In this week's Buzz Video, I discussed the chances of the Rams looking at some of their young offensive linemen in the final two weeks. ... From there, I offered some thoughts on what the San Diego Chargers' announcement that they're staying in San Diego in 2015 might mean for the Rams. ... Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner is adjusting to not playing. ... Center Scott Wells was the only Ram to miss practice Wednesday.


Our experts discuss this year's MVP race.

Here's John Clayton's weekly mailbag.

Matthew Berry reveals his Week 16 fantasy ranks.

At, Anthony Stalter discusses what the Rams should do at quarterback in 2015.

At, Bernie Miklasz discussed the Rams and Los Angeles situation.

Jim Thomas writes that offensive lineman Barrett Jones is hoping for better days ahead.

Rams-Raiders: Matchup breakdown

November, 29, 2014
Nov 29
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at three individual matchups to keep an eye on when the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders meet at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald versus Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski

No matter who has been put in front of Donald this season, he has won his one-on-one matchups more often than not. Teams have begun throwing additional blockers at Donald more than they were earlier in the season which means he's seeing more double teams from the guards and center. Wisniewski is one of the more underrated centers in the league, a solid if unspectacular type who is better in the run game than in pass protection.

That might be a bad sign for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr this week because of Donald's ability to quickly penetrate the backfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Wisniewski has allowed one sack, three quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries. He's also picked up four penalties along the way. The Rams coaches' evaluations have Donald down for five sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback pressures and nine quarterback hits this season.

Oakland has allowed the fewest sacks in the league but sacks aren't everything and if the Raiders can't contain Donald, it's going to be a long day for Carr and the offense.

Rams right tackle Joe Barksdale versus Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck

It's easy to look at the Raiders' record and dismiss them as a bad team but they've actually been pretty solid defensively this season. Amidst the many older veterans the Raiders brought in last offseason, Tuck has played better than most. He has a pair of sacks, seven quarterback hits and 10 quarterback hits to go with his 20 tackles. No, he's not the same Tuck that he was when he was a dominant player for the Giants but he can still create some chaos.

Of course, Barksdale is the player opposite Tuck who will be asked to slow him down. After a solid 2013, Barksdale has been a bit more up and down this time around. He's struggled against elite pass-rushers like Kansas City's Justin Houston but also been solid in games earlier in the season like Dallas and Tampa Bay. After a down cycle, Barksdale has been better the past two weeks but will have another tough challenge in Tuck this week.

The Rams need to get the running game going and it's on Barksdale and his line mates to make it happen.

Rams punt returner Tavon Austin versus Raiders punter Marquette King

Oakland's special teams have had their share of ups and downs but King has been one of the consistent bright spots. He's punted more than anyone in the league but his 41.66 net average ranks eighth in the league. The Raiders, though, haven't been the best at covering those punts despite the solid net average. They're allowing an average punt return of 10.27 this season, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.

The Rams, meanwhile, have been on the verge of getting Austin a touchdown in recent weeks as only a pair of questionable penalties have brought long returns back. Austin has looked more comfortable and decisive over the past few weeks and if he gets an opportunity, he could make the type of play that could change the game and leave former teammate Ray Ray Armstrong disappointed on the other side in the process.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the season-ending knee injury to left tackle Jake Long caused the St. Louis Rams to shift things around on their offensive line, there was a strong possibility that no game on the schedule would be more appealing to the right side of the line than Sunday's matchup against the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonRodger Saffold was diplomatic this week when addressing the game against the Raiders, who backed out on an offseason deal with him.
The free-agent saga that surrounded guard Rodger Saffold's signing with Oakland then failing a physical only to return to St. Louis is still fresh in the minds of many, Saffold included. But as Rams coach Jeff Fisher pointed out Wednesday, Saffold isn't the only one who might have a little extra chip on his shoulder Sunday.

“You know [OL Joe] Barksdale's also playing a team that was his team for a year," Fisher said. "I'm sure they'll be highly motivated. Rodger's having a great year, had the little setback with the shoulder, but he's back and playing well as is Joe.”

Whatever wounds Saffold might still be carrying around for the Raiders are a bit fresher than Barksdale's. The quick refresher course goes something like this: Saffold agreed to a monster contract with the Raiders, took a physical and before the deal became official Oakland backed out.

The Raiders cited shoulder problems for Saffold, something that wasn't too far out in left field given his past injury issues. But what was strange was that the Rams, who know Saffold's health better than anyone, had no such issues. Conspiracy theorists like to point out that the Raiders took a lot of immediate heat for the size of the deal Saffold received and simply backed out under public pressure.

Regardless of what you believe, Saffold returned to St. Louis on a lucrative five-year deal. As he prepares to face the Raiders, Saffold said he's not too concerned with any sort of revenge scenario.

"I try to stay away from it so I don't get too antsy before the game but of course my energy and my passion for the game takes over when I'm playing, so who knows what I'm going to say when I'm on the field on Sunday," Saffold said.

Saffold then added a bit of a tell that this game might offer something more than his previous diplomatic response.

"All I can say is that just knowing me, knowing the way I play, I'm excited about this game and I can't wait for Sunday to roll around," Saffold said.

For what it's worth, Saffold said he has had no problems with the shoulder this year. He hasn't missed any games though he has had a few scares that have cost him chunks of three games.

Saffold's bigger challenge has been handling the constant moving between left and right guard but he has settled in on the left side since Long went to injured reserve.

"I like guard, I like tackle too," Saffold said. "It doesn't matter. I think staying at guard has helped me get better at guard so that I can see some more things that I haven't been able to see so I'm getting more and more comfortable at guard. Playing tackle is like riding a bike for me."

As for Barksdale, he actually has even deeper ties to the Raiders though he's quick to downplay them. Oakland drafted Barksdale in the third round in 2011. He spent a year and a half there before being unceremoniously released.

The Rams claimed Barksdale on waivers and he has developed into one of their most reliable linemen week to week. Like Saffold, Barksdale is saying all the right things about facing his former team though it's easy enough to gather that it's not just any other game to him either.

"There's always going to be something there because a team cut you," Barksdale said. "But at the same time, I'm trying not to make it personal because it's not about me, it's about the team. If I go out and have a great game but we lose, it's not really going to benefit anybody. So I'm more focused on the team, trying to focus in and win this game."

Although they might not admit it beforehand, a win against the Raiders would taste a little sweeter for both Rams linemen.

Rams-49ers: Matchup breakdown

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look at three individual matchups to keep an eye on when the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers meet at 8:30 p.m. ET Monday night on ESPN.

Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis vs. Niners running back Frank Gore

Like clockwork, San Francisco running back Frank Gore has been the centerpiece of the offense almost since he arrived in the league back in 2005 and certainly since his second season in 2006. Gore's physical, powerful running style has made life difficult for the Rams in the time since, and has allowed Gore to have as much or more success against St. Louis than any other team. Gore has 14 rushing touchdowns against the Rams, the most of any player in NFL history. In 14 meetings, he has rushed for 1,149 yards and those touchdowns on 254 carries with five 100-yard outings. In the teams' last meeting in St. Louis, Gore had 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The Rams' defense, meanwhile, has struggled to stop the run, sitting 29th in the league in that category by allowing 152.5 yards per game and 28th in the league at 4.82 yards per rush allowed. Laurinaitis isn't the only one tasked with slowing Gore, but much of the responsibility falls on the middle linebacker in terms of having everyone lined up correctly and not allowing for mental mistakes like a blown gap responsibility. Laurinaitis said this week that he feels like he could not watch much tape and know exactly what the Niners are going to do. That might be the case, but knowing and doing are two very different things.

Rams right tackle Joe Barksdale vs. 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks

Barksdale has been a pleasant surprise in the Rams' lineup since he became a full-time starter a year ago, but Brooks is one player who has proved a nightmare -- not just for the Barksdale but the Rams as a whole. Without the services of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers have leaned on others to pick up the slack, but Brooks hasn't necessarily been able to do that as one would expect. In the Thursday night meeting in St. Louis a year ago, Brooks had a sack and a half and led the team with nine tackles on his way to his best season. Brooks has been relatively quiet so far this season with nine tackles and a sack, but he's getting pressure with three hits and nine pressures. There are other 49ers capable of generating pressure, especially defensive lineman Justin Smith, but neutralizing Brooks is a good place to start.

Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins vs. 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin

Despite numerous offseason additions and the return of a healthy Michael Crabtree, it's Boldin who is still the 49ers' most productive receiver with his 25 catches and 303 yards. Much like Gore, Boldin has made a career of tormenting the Rams. In 15 games against the Rams, Boldin has 97 receptions for 1,326 yards and seven touchdowns, including six 100-yard games.

Given the other options in the passing game, it's unlikely Jenkins will shadow Boldin as he did Dallas' Dez Bryant earlier this season, but the two will likely see plenty of each other as they did a year ago. In the 2013 game in San Francisco, Jenkins repeatedly tussled with Boldin, who had nine catches for 98 yards and got Jenkins off his game with his physical style and willingness to engage in trash talk. There is no love lost between these two, but the Rams need more from Jenkins in order to keep Boldin and the 49ers in check.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Little more than a year after the Oakland Raiders used a third-round draft pick on offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, they released him.

It was Sept. 26, 2012, just one of a handful of days over the past couple of years now permanently etched in Barksdale's mind. The next was Sept. 27, 2012, a day later when the St. Louis Rams claimed him off waivers.

[+] EnlargeJoe Barksdale
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoTackle Joe Barksdale, drafted by Oakland in 2011, has found a home with the Rams and in St. Louis.
Barksdale arrived in St. Louis with enough raw talent to develop into the bedrock of an often in flux offensive line that he is today but without any of the self-belief necessary to get there.

"When I got here, I was a recently cut former draft pick with no confidence, not many technical skills," Barksdale said. "But I believe I'm here for a reason and I'm so happy to be here. I do believe that everything did happen for a reason, when it was supposed to and how it was supposed to."

What's happened in the nearly two years since Barksdale arrived in St. Louis is more than anyone knows. It's easy to look at the resume he's compiled and see a young player simply emerging as a solid right tackle providing durability to a line in desperate need of it.

But the road from there to here hasn't been as easy as it might seem.

When the Rams claimed Barksdale in 2012, they were simply searching for help on the offensive line after some injuries had struck. That's been a familiar refrain in recent seasons.

Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau saw the 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale as his next great reclamation project, if only he could get Barksdale to have the same belief.

For as much work as Barksdale needed on footwork, hand placement and understanding of angles, he needed regular reminders he could get there.

"His thing is more confidence in everything," Boudreau said. "Joe is his own worst critic. He's his own worst enemy. I tell him I will do all the worrying for you and you get out there and you play."

That confidence came quickly for Barksdale, who said he genuinely started buying into Boudreau's belief when he started at left tackle against Green Bay on Oct. 21, 2012. He started again the following week in London against New England and graded out well in both games.

After starting those two games and appearing in four more, Barksdale returned in 2013 primed to be the primary swing tackle behind Rodger Saffold and Jake Long. He spent part of his offseason working with Hall of Fame Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater; something he repeated this summer, and came back ready for whatever role was needed.

As it turned out, projected right tackle Saffold suffered an injury early in the preseason and again in Week 2 of the regular season. Before Barksdale was to start the next week against Dallas, tragedy struck.

Charles Fobbs, who Barksdale calls a mentor, second father, brother and coach since he was 13 years old, died in a car accident before the Rams played the Cowboys.

Barksdale was devastated by the loss and attended the funeral back home in Michigan in search of some peace of mind. When he returned to St. Louis, he found solace on the football field, in his teammates and from his coaches.

Boudreau, in particular, knew what Barksdale was going through. His father had passed away not long before Fobbs, and Boudreau was still reeling from his own loss. Boudreau offered daily encouragement and reminded Barksdale that the best way to get through a tough time is simply to do it.

"I said you have a job to do and when you're at work, it might be the best thing for you, it might be the best therapy for you," Boudreau said. "He kind of knew it was somebody walking his shoes. It's going to always hurt and I said the anniversary of that will be the same thing for you and when you go back to Michigan you'll see his family and it will be a tough time for you, but I think in his case, he's grown up more than anything since he's been a Ram."

With each practice and game, Barksdale grew as a player as he dedicated himself to improving. By the time the season was through, Barksdale had started 13 games and played in all 16. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus graded him as the team's second most productive lineman.

Amidst the revolving doors at other positions on the line, Barksdale remains steadfast on the right side. Boudreau points out Barksdale is no longer dwelling on mistakes. Barksdale has even set big goals for himself, starting with winning a Super Bowl, making the Pro Bowl and eventually the Hall of Fame.

In this training camp, Barksdale has been the one constant on the offensive line, playing with the starters at the same position every day.

"Joe's done a great job," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Joe's stepped in and played. He's played both sides for us, settled in on the right side. He's reliable, dependable, everything you want at right tackle. It was great timing for us, great timing for Joe, when he was let go and we had an opportunity to bring him in and he's done a great job."

After the season, Barksdale is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. More important, he's also in the midst of planning a wedding. He says he spends much more time thinking of the latter than the former when he's not practicing his newest hobby, the electric guitar.

Given his druthers, Barksdale would like to stay in St. Louis.

"Definitely," Barksdale said. "They gave me a second chance."

Rams Camp Report: Day 13

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of St. Louis Rams training camp:
  • The Rams followed a sluggish Monday practice with a physical Tuesday workout with plenty of work on the run game, some big collisions, and even a small skirmish. For the second time in this camp, defensive end Michael Sam found himself exchanging shoves with a teammate, this time offensive tackle Joe Barksdale. During a run blocking drill late in practice, Barksdale blocked Sam to the ground after the whistle. Sam took exception and went after Barksdale. The two were separated quickly.
  • Perhaps more entertaining than that is watching rookie Greg Robinson take part in the run blocking drills. You can tell the big man just feels at home when he gets to move downhill and wipe out a defender. One of the unfortunate souls in his way Tuesday was linebacker Johnny Millard. Robinson buried Millard after a short head start with the sound of impressed teammates serving as the sound track. We haven't really seen Robinson cut it loose yet in part because he's still learning but drills like that should certainly help open things up a bit.
  • Tight end Justice Cunningham is another one who drew some oohs and aahs from his teammates for his blocking in the run drills. Cunningham, working out of a fullback spot, came down hill and dropped the hammer a couple of times. He's battling Alex Bayer for a potential fourth tight end spot. Bayer has the leg up on the receiving side but Cunningham is ahead as a blocker. Should be an interesting battle.
  • Receivers Austin Franklin and Stedman Bailey had strong outings in the one-on-one passing drills. Franklin caught back-to-back touchdowns against Rodney McLeod with some sharp route running. Bailey continues to consistently get open and make plays when the opportunity arises.
  • On the flip side, cornerbacks Brandon McGee and Greg Reid had some impressive pass breakups in seven-on-seven. McGee climbed the ladder on a deep ball to receiver Brian Quick and though it appeared Quick had him beat, McGee stuck with it and jarred the ball loose for an incompletion. He's battled an ankle injury in camp but seems to be rounding back to form.
  • The funniest moment of the day came after the veterans departed practice, leaving only the rookies on the field. Running back Tre Mason ran into the flat where a pass was thrown to him but apparently the sun got in his eyes and it hit Mason in the chest. Problem was, Mason never saw it, so it hit him in the chest and fell to the ground. The miscue brought chuckles from coaches and teammates.
  • CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Darren Woodard, S Matt Daniels, FB Kadeem Jones, LB James Laurinaitis, OL Barrett Jones, OL Brandon Washington, OL Rodger Saffold, DT Michael Brockers and DL William Hayes did not participate in Tuesday's practice.
  • The Rams have an afternoon special teams practice scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. local time. That workout is closed to the public.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If the St. Louis Rams projected starting offensive line can stay healthy, it has the talent and experience to be among the league's best.

The only problem is that the size of that "if" isn't done much justice in this font size. This is the next verse, same as the first when it comes to the Rams' offensive line. From left to right, the line has established Pro Bowlers and potential future Pro Bowlers. It also has an injury history that makes betting big on that group to stay together for 16 games a risky proposition.

[+] EnlargeJake Long
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonJake Long is on track in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL to start the season.
About a week and a half into this training camp, the Rams are starting to get the projected pieces in place. Left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells returned to team drills last week as they recover from offseason knee surgery and an illness, respectively. Long and Wells form the experienced heartbeat of the line, the two most experience players upfront and two of the team's most veteran leaders in general.

Long is still slowly working his way into getting more reps but appears on track to play in some preseason games and be ready to start the season. Wells' return has been more accelerated as he's getting plenty of work in team drills.

Having Long and Wells back is a welcome sight for quarterback Sam Bradford and an added help to rookie left guard Greg Robinson.

"When Jake and Scotty are in the huddle, they just provide a ton of that veteran leadership on that line, especially with Greg in there," Bradford said. "I think having those two guys around him just helps him as far as communication goes so it’s really important for those guys to start jelling too. So the more we can get them on the field together, I think the better we're going to be."

Of course, no sooner did the Rams get Long and Wells back in the mix than right guard Rodger Saffold suffered an apparent stinger that has kept him out the past couple of practices. Such is the way things seem to go for this group.

The good news is that Saffold's latest issue doesn't seem serious and he should be back soon enough. The bad news is that Saffold having injury issues is nothing new. The same can be said of Wells and Long. That trio has combined to miss a total of 37 games over the past three seasons because of various ailments.

The Rams committed serious draft capital and dollars to the line in the offseason. They spent the No. 2 overall pick on Robinson, signed Saffold to a lucrative long-term deal and added veteran guard Davin Joseph on a one-year deal. Robinson and Saffold provide strong insurance in case anything happens to Long or right tackle Joe Barksdale.

Before Long returned and even now as he's working his way back into the mix, the Rams have taken the opportunity to get Robinson and Saffold some work at left tackle with Joseph filling in at guard.

“Well, that’s the big thing," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We’re going to move guys around. Again, we’re trying to create competition, putting Greg in different spots, Rodger in different spots .... They’ve been working hard. The communication now is so much easier for them. We make adjustments, they make adjustments, make calls. That just comes from playing together."

Which brings us back to the original question of just how much that group will play together. Aside from Joseph, only backup center Tim Barnes has any sort of meaningful game experience and even that is limited to four starts last season. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is adept at getting a lot from a little but if the Rams' line breaks out in another rash of injuries, it could easily derail their hopes of a breakthrough season.

"I think we’re coming together real well," Long said. "Especially in practice against this defensive line it makes us better every single day. Getting Davin, a veteran who has been to the Pro Bowl and is a great player, he’s doing a great job out there. We have been working hard and just pushing each other and it’s coming along good."

For this group, coming together isn't the issue. Staying together is.

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. -- 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.
The NFL draft is set to begin May 8 and the St. Louis Rams hold 12 picks. For the next week and a half, we'll take a look at a different position every day with what the Rams have in place, what they need, when they might address it and possible fits.

We finish the countdown with a look at this year's crop of offensive linemen.

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

What's needed: Retaining Saffold was a huge move for the Rams even if they were able to do it by way of luck. But the Rams look poised to enter 2014 with the same question about the ability of the offensive line to stay healthy and produce that they faced in 2013. We saw how that worked out when the Rams' expected starting line played 295 of the team's 968 snaps together last season (30.5 percent). Just three other expected starting lines played fewer snaps together last season.

Assuming Long, Barksdale, Wells and Saffold are four of the five anticipated starters going into the draft, only Barksdale has a recent history of playing every game without injury issues arising. The team has an opening for a starting left guard and needs to consider drafting a top tackle with Long coming off a major injury and Barksdale set for free agency after 2014. The case could be made to add a third lineman, if neither Barnes nor Jones are thought to be the answer at center.

Possible fits: The Rams place great value on versatility among linemen and many of the players they've been connected to either by visits or workout fit that mold. The team has made little secret of its interest in help for the line, spending time with top three tackles Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. All have their pros and cons but the Rams could easily find a way to make any of the three fit in right away. Beyond that, the Rams have also showed interest in linemen who project better as guards but have tackle experience, much like Saffold. Nevada's Joel Bitonio, North Dakota State's Billy Turner and Furman's Dakota Dozier profile as potential additions in that mold. Notre Dame's Zack Martin also makes a lot of sense as that type of player though he'd probably require the Rams to use the second of their first-round picks. Bitonio probably will be gone before the Rams draft in the second round but Turner or Dozier should be available there and perhaps into the third. The guard class isn't particularly strong and it appears the Rams prefer to find an option for the guard job who could also play tackle in a pinch. The team has done legwork on other linemen such as Ohio State's Jack Mewhort and Tennessee's Ju'Wuan James and Antonio Richardson.

Verdict: There is no doubt that the Rams are going to pick an offensive lineman, probably more than one at some point in the draft. The only question is, how early? It's been easy to connect the Rams to players like Robinson and Matthews because they make sense for what the Rams need. Assuming Jadeveon Clowney is off the board, the Rams will have their choice of the top tackles and receiver Sammy Watkins. They'd probably prefer to trade down to nab one of those players but if they stay put, it sure seems like an offensive lineman is probably the direction they'll lean. If they do go with a player like Watkins, someone like Martin would be a good fit at No. 13. Either way, the guess here is the Rams use two of their first five picks on an offensive lineman with one of those picks coming in the first round.
If it wasn't already clear that the St. Louis Rams have no problem giving playing time to young players, let the team's distribution of performance bonuses serve as another reminder.

The league pool allows each team to distribute a total of $3.46 million to all players on the roster, but the system is set up in a way which is supposed to allow players who don't make much money -- but play a lot -- to reap the biggest rewards.

Rodney McLeod leads the way for the Rams this year, garnering an additional $280,915.83. That should come as no surprise as the second-year undrafted safety played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie and became a starter at safety and nickel corner in 2013. After filling in for an injured Darian Stewart in the preseason, he claimed the job on a permanent basis as he played nearly 80 percent of the available snaps.

Tackle Joe Barksdale also cashed in after becoming a starter at right tackle early in the season because of an injury and, like McLeod, doing enough to hang on to the job for the rest of the season. Barksdale earned $187,114.62 for playing 60.87 percent of the snaps.

All compensation and playtime percentages courtesy of NFL management council. Those numbers for every team can be found here.
ST. LOUIS -- Of the many questions awaiting the St. Louis Rams along their offensive line heading into the offseason, one player they know will be back in the mix is offensive tackle Joe Barksdale. What remains to be seen is how the team views his role long term.

Barksdale was an important cog to the offensive line in 2013, initially stepping in for injured starter Rodger Saffold at right tackle in Week 2 against Atlanta. From there, he made the most of his opportunity, playing well enough in Saffold's absence to mostly keep the job even after Saffold returned to the mix.

Claimed on waivers from Oakland in 2012 on the recommendation of special teams coach John Fassel, who had worked with Barksdale with the Raiders, Barksdale has been yet another in an increasingly large group of line coach Paul Boudreau specials.

With Saffold set to become an unrestricted free agent and Barksdale playing well and under contract, it made plenty of sense for the Rams to take a long look at Barksdale to determine his long-term viability. Barksdale started 13 games, and though he split time with Saffold in a few before Saffold moved to guard, he was clearly the team's primary right tackle in playing 794 offensive snaps on the season.

Was that enough to ensure Barksdale a starting job moving into 2014?

"I don’t know," Barksdale said. "That’s all speculation. All I know is I’ll come back with the same work ethic I’ve had the last three years, done the best I can every day and try to become the best player I can to help the team out."

The 6-foot-5, 326-pound Barksdale seemed to fit the mold of what the Rams are looking for at tackle. Although he's not the most athletic or strongest tackle you'll find, Barksdale competed well and was mostly a net positive in 2013. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus gave Barksdale an overall grade of 12.2 for the season, with an 11.9 in pass protection. Barksdale earned a negative grade just three times.

Considering that Saffold and guard Shelley Smith are headed for unrestricted free agency, left tackle Jake Long has a long road back from a torn ACL and MCL, and center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl are potential cap casualties, the presence of Barksdale is made even more important.

It's entirely possible the Rams could be facing up to 80 percent turnover on the line for opening day 2014. Teams often talk about the importance of continuity, especially on the offensive line which also plays in Barksdale's favor.

On the other side of the coin, the Rams are armed with a pair of first-round draft picks at Nos. 2 and 13 and would be well served to draft a top tackle. Whether it's Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson or some other top tackle, a player capable of stepping in and playing right away and eventually being Long's replacement at left tackle would make sense with an early pick.

Of the many possibilities and permutations the Rams' offensive line could take on in 2014, at least they know that Barksdale fits into the picture whether he's a starter or not.

Mock draft: Matthews makes sense, but ...

December, 18, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- Everything about Todd McShay's selection of Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews for the St. Louis Rams in his initial 2014 mock draft Insider makes sense. But that doesn't make it a slam dunk.

Premier tackles can be hard to find, and although the Rams have their left tackle in Jake Long under contract for the next three years, the addition of a player such as Matthews would give Long a solid partner for the time being while also providing the Rams a long-term solution on the left side.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M tackle Jake Matthews meets one of the Rams' needs and would be a smart first-round pick.
Joe Barksdale has played well at right tackle since stepping in for Rodger Saffold in Week 3, but it remains to be seen whether he's done enough to earn the job on a full-time basis. There are worse things than having a proven and reliable player like Barksdale as the third tackle moving forward.

In early projections, Matthews is regarded as the best tackle in the draft and a plug-and-play starter from day one. Given the Rams' primary needs -- offensive line, secondary and wide receiver -- Matthews likely represents the best match of need and value for a potential No. 2 overall draft choice.

Digging deeper, Matthews makes sense on a level beyond his talent and the Rams' needs. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a history of passing on offensive linemen with his first-round picks, but if ever a player were to alter that, Matthews could be the one. Matthews is the son of Bruce Matthews, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who played for Fisher with the Oilers/Titans from 1994 to 2001.

That doesn't guarantee anything, but it stands to reason that those ties could act as a tiebreaker if it comes down to it.

Of course, for all the reasons Matthews to the Rams is logical, there's one big X factor that would stand in the way: a freakish, 6-foot-6, 274-pounder who goes by the name of Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina's superstar defensive end would be available at No. 2 in McShay's scenario, with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater going to Houston at No. 1. Having Clowney on the board would present the Rams with a pair of options even more intriguing than Matthews.

The first would be to actually draft Clowney. While the Rams are loaded at defensive end, Fisher abides by the idea that you can never have too many pass-rushers. A line featuring the likes of Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Clowney would be an absolute nightmare for opponents. Would it be a long shot? Maybe, but never say never when it comes to Fisher and premium pass-rushers, especially a difference-maker the caliber of Clowney.

The other, more likely, option would be the Rams using Clowney as trade bait to bring back another haul of draft picks and move down in the draft. Fisher and general manager Les Snead have not been shy about pulling the trigger on trades in their two drafts together. Heck, they own this pick because of the deal that sent the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft to Washington.

It's unlikely the Rams would get a return on par with what they got for that selection, but the market for Clowney or even the next-best quarterback likely would land them some more quality draft spots while not forcing them to move down too far.

In what amounts to the Rams' ideal world, they could make such a trade and still land a player such as Matthews or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Either way, last year's trade with the Redskins figures to be the gift that keeps on giving in St. Louis.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 14

December, 9, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 30-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

Officially official: The moment the Rams lost quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending knee injury back in Week 7, it became quite clear they would have little shot to reach the postseason this year. A loss to San Francisco last week made it a 99 percent certainty that they wouldn't. Sunday's loss took away any remaining hope for even the most optimistic of the Rams' faithful.

The Rams dropped to 5-8 with the loss and are out of possibilities for postseason play, something they are no stranger to. The Rams have now missed the playoffs in every season since 2004 and are almost certain to finish last in the NFC West.

Penalty party: For the second consecutive week, the Rams tallied 11 penalties. Those penalties cost the Rams 90 yards this week and 105 last week. This week's penalties moved the Rams from a tie for fifth in total penalties for the season into third place all by their lonesome. They have 98 penalties this season, trailing only Seattle and Tampa Bay.

Rams players put the blame on themselves for the errors and though there has been consistent insistence that many of the penalties called on them have been incorrect, the fact remains that the Rams continue to rack up costly flags. Worse, the Rams are not good enough to overcome them.

All the right moves: Harvey Dahl returned to the lineup this week, settling in at his normal spot at right guard. Coach Jeff Fisher said it's a general rule for a player not to lose his starting job to injury, thus Dahl's return to his usual spot. Small problem is Dahl's return meant uprooting Rodger Saffold, who had settled in nicely at the position in Dahl's absence.

So the Rams set about working a three-man rotation on the right side of the line with Saffold as the one constant in a swingman role. Dahl started at right guard with Saffold at right tackle followed by Saffold at right guard with Joe Barksdale at right tackle. While the thinking of getting Dahl back in the lineup is fine, it's a bit perplexing why the Rams refuse to find a place for Saffold that doesn't continuously disrupt continuity on the line. Saffold played well at guard and could have a future there. Why not let him play on the left side and see if he can settle in for the final games before he hits free agency this offseason?

Running in place: Without Bradford's services, the Rams have had a simple offensive formula to get victories from week to week. Run the ball, take care of it and take advantage when chances for big pass plays arise. The key, however, has been the first step in that process, the whole run the ball thing.

For the most part, they've been able to do that with rookie Zac Stacy leading the way, but Arizona's highly ranked run defense ensured Stacy and the Rams went nowhere Sunday. Stacy's 25 yards on 14 carries was by far his worst output since becoming the starter, and though he scored a touchdown and Tavon Austin posted a 57-yard run, the Rams were stuck in neutral most of the day. The rest of the offense felt the effects.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- You’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive lineman who prefers pass blocking to run blocking.

The chance to run block allows any offensive lineman the chance to come flying out of his stance and physically dominate the man across from him. Pass blocking puts the pass in passive, asking linemen to wait for the collision to come to him with more precision and technique required.

So it’s no surprise that the St. Louis Rams' offensive line enjoys the power running game that has become the centerpiece of the offense in the past seven games.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Zac Stacy
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesIn the past seven games, the Rams revamped their running game, averaging 151.86 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, led by running back Zac Stacy.
“It feels good,” right tackle Joe Barksdale said. “You aren’t as physical in pass protection. It’s more technical. Run blocking is technical, too, but being able to line up every once in a while and just come off the ball and hit somebody and not worrying about a quarterback getting killed is pretty fun.”

It’s one thing to enjoy an activity. It’s another thing all together to actually be good at it.

For whatever reason, Rams offensive linemen Barksdale, Jake Long, Chris Williams, Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, Rodger Saffold and Shelley Smith have proved to be particularly proficient when it comes to repeatedly clearing space in the run game as opposed to keeping the quarterback upright while dropping back 50 times a game.

“We always talk about balance, and I think our guys can do whatever we ask them to do,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “I think they like that style of offense is probably the better way to say it. They like coming off the ball and trying to work double teams and things like that. But they’ll do whatever we ask. It’s been fun to watch these guys.”

Soon after the Rams’ 35-11 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 26, the Rams had hit an early season low point and lagged behind in many areas. None more so than the run game.

At that point, the Rams were dead last in the NFL in rushing at 47.25 yards per game. They were only slightly better in yards per carry, ranking 31st at 2.59 yards per attempt.

In the days after that game, Fisher, Schottenheimer and the offensive staff gathered over the long weekend and began piecing together the formations and plays they wanted to incorporate.

They also changed personnel at running back by plugging in Zac Stacy as the starter and added more multiple-tight-end and power-I formation stuff with guys like Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks more prominently involved. The coaching staff also emphasized the need for better blocking outside the hashes from the receivers, something else that has improved during the Rams’ run-game renaissance.

Schematically, the Rams have stuck to what they know in terms of keeping Stacy between the tackles with plenty of inside zone calls, many of them to the left side behind Long, Williams and Harkey at fullback.

“It starts upstairs,” Fisher said. “Guys have done a great job upstairs with the scheme, with the game plan and then carrying it over to the practice field. It just doesn’t stop with the line.”

The personnel on the offensive line was the one area that didn’t see much change, though injuries have caused the occasional shakeup.

Barksdale stepped in for an injured Saffold at right tackle and played well enough to hang on to the job upon Saffold’s return. Dahl suffered a knee injury and Smith stepped in before ceding the job to Saffold, who has excelled in two starts on the interior.

No matter how the Rams have mixed and matched in the past seven games, they’ve found ways to have success on the ground.

“I think we are a lot more physical, a lot more aggressive,” Saffold said. “We started out kind of like a different game plan. Now we are a lot more balanced.”

The results have been overwhelmingly positive. In the past seven games, the Rams are averaging 151.86 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Both of those totals rank second in the league over that span.

The net effect of the improved run game has also allowed for the Rams to make more plays down the field in the passing game, many of those coming off play-action. The Rams are 9-of-20 on throws 20 yards or more down the field in those seven games, a vast improvement from the first four contests.

And though they still prefer to run block, the pass blocking comes much easier after the run has been established.

“It’s really good, because it takes a lot of the heat off when you are dealing with the pass rush,” Saffold said. “When they get their ears pinned back, they start chipping away at you, and after that it can be one technique or one move that gets you beat, so of course we love to take the pressure off of doing that. I think we have been able to pass and run very effectively, especially these last few games, and it’s really opened up a lot of things for us.”