As the St. Louis Rams prepare for their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, one of the biggest questions remaining on the team is the position battle at left guard. The offensive line as a whole is expected to see a huge upgrade in 2013, but a hole remains between Jake Long at left tackle and Scott Wells at center.
Last season the team had to deal with injuries from start to finish as their full complement of linemen were not in their Week 1 configuration ever again after the first game. St. Louis was dealt another blow to begin training camp as Rokevious Watkins reported well over his team-recommended weight threshold and was given a pink slip as a result. Now the fight for the starting gig at left guard is very competitive and figures to remain that way through the majority of camp.
Reclamation project Chris Williams, a former first round pick by the Chicago Bears out of Vanderbilt, is in a tight battle with Shelley Smith for the starting job. Smith held down the guard position last season when injuries put Watkins on IR and fared quite well. Williams was originally drafted as a tackle, but he has already proven to be a valuable, versatile piece for the Rams along their offensive front.
Harvey Dahl is working his way back from a torn biceps, but he is on track to be ready to go when the regular season starts. Rodger Saffold has warmed up to the right tackle position after Long took his spot in the offseason as the blindside protector.
This line is still a work in progress with fourth round rookie Barrett Jones now in practice after beginning the season on the PUP list. The unit should be much improved from last season, and head coach Jeff Fisher seems confident in that being the case. In advance of the preseason opener with the Browns, he told KMOV:
“They’re coming together. We’re alternating the left guard spot everyday and it’s coming together. I’m sure Cleveland’s going to have a lot to prove in the first preseason game.”
The fact that the line is coming together should be music to quarterback Sam Bradford’s ears as he has spent far too much time picking himself up off of the turf in his first three years in St. Louis. Seeing how both Williams and Smith manage against a live defense will be a crucial determinant in who ultimately wins the starting gig at left guard. Hopefully they both prove to be solid options and give the Rams some depth throughout the upcoming season.