Rams ‘best 5’ O-linemen still aren’t playing together — and that could be a problem


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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. Like he has for the last few practices, Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Joe Noteboom went through individual drills ahead of Wednesday’s joint practices with the Denver Broncos. Then, still in his pads and helmet, Noteboom stood to the side as team drills began.

Noteboom, who tore his Achilles last season but was cleared for full participation as training camp began last month, is now dealing with what head coach Sean McVay says is an unrelated injury (and has declined to share more detail). I have watched Noteboom closely during and after practices, and have noted his effort in workouts with team medical and athletic training staff, as he works to return from that injury.

He’s clearly trying to come back, but Noteboom missing time right now is significant. He may eventually be the Rams’ starting right guard, but he has taken few reps there and when he did, they were in rotation with Tremayne Anchrum. In fact, the Rams moved him away from a competition at left tackle and into a new competition at right guard with just a few days left in their Irvine, Calif., training camp. In everyone’s perfect scenario, Noteboom would have gotten productive snaps in joint practices against both the Las Vegas Raiders last week, and the Broncos this week.

After all, McVay has emphasized, and re-emphasized the importance of getting the Rams’ “best five” offensive linemen consistent snaps with each other, and with quarterback Matthew Stafford. But all of the sudden, it’s late August. And while I think I know what the line will look like into the regular season — Alaric Jackson, Steve Avila, Coleman Shelton, Noteboom, Rob Havenstein — I haven’t yet seen that group get any consistent competitive work in together.

I asked McVay on Wednesday whether he believes that, when healthy, Noteboom is one of the Rams’ best five.

“I think he’s played that way during camp,” McVay said. “The interesting thing is, to get better at football you have to be able to play football. We want to be able to find that five, and the way it fits together. It’s hard to be able to see that when you don’t have people out here. All we can do is continue to work with the guys that are available. Want to see them continue to take steps in the right direction.

“But,” he added, “I’ve been super pleased with the camp that Joe has had. I think he’s played outstanding at tackle and guard. When he gets back, we’ll have to figure out which one of those spots we want to be able to rep him at.”

Let’s say Noteboom gets back next week. Or the week after. Or in time for the season-opener in Seattle on Sept. 10. Based on what McVay is saying, it seems like Noteboom will go to right guard — where he has taken very few reps either in practice, competitive joint practices or in games, and where the language and technique is obviously completely different than at left tackle. Noteboom was rotating with Jackson at left tackle through the first part of training camp. But with a few days left in those Irvine sessions, Noteboom started rotating at right guard and spent little time rotating at left tackle. McVay noted Noteboom’s ability at tackle, too, but moving him to left tackle and Jackson away from the position he’s played competitively for a solid month would frankly be insane, and I’d be really surprised if that’s even an option.

It’s a positive thing that, through the injury-riddled chaos of 2022, the Rams discovered undrafted free agent Jackson’s knack for left tackle. That doesn’t absolve the fact that Jackson was actually already on the roster when the Rams signed Noteboom to a three-year, $40 million extension ahead of the 2022 season with the intent that he would be their starting left tackle. Previously, in between significant injuries, Noteboom had also played left guard and was the extra tackle in jumbo run-blocking sets. The Rams may not have had enough data back then to discern Jackson as their future at left tackle, but they certainly were aware of Noteboom’s injury history.

Let me be quite clear: I don’t believe their current issues are something Noteboom, Jackson, or any of these players should get blamed for. Noteboom can’t help the injuries, and he certainly has very little say in the way he’s gotten moved around from position to position over the last couple of years. He also is more than capable of handling the mental toll such positional whiplash demands. And, lest we forget, Noteboom was prepared to return from an Achilles tear in less than a year, and the effort he had to have put into rehabbing behind the scenes must have been enormous. All Jackson has done is win a job. Offensive line coach Ryan Wendell has been praised by coaches and players alike for his efforts in maximizing the group, and especially bringing along young players like Steve Avila, who will likely start at left guard.


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No, this goes deeper than the players or current assistant coach themselves, or seems to. This reeks of inconsistent position philosophy in a post-Andrew Whitworth world, of fluctuating and perhaps even at times impulsive decision-making by an organization that must figure out what type of personality it wants its offensive line to have, and then to stick with it. The Rams are already learning a big lesson from their need-based selection of lineman Logan Bruss at pick No. 104 in the 2022 draft, who they plugged in at guard because they had to fill the spot despite it not being his natural position; Bruss is now re-learning the right tackle job for the first time in the NFL with mixed results. Position flexibility is an applauded quality by coaches toward linemen (Side question: Have we considered whether the linemen themselves applaud it?). But it’s really supposed to be an adjustment to a problem: One player goes down, so another can fill in wherever, in a pinch. Too much shuffling is not a way to maximize potential of one player, in the right role that is specific to their abilities. Just because a lineman can play multiple roles, should they have to?

Football is cruel. It will hurt you, if it can. It brutalized Stafford last season, to the tune of 29 sacks, 63 hits, two trips to the concussion protocol and one bruised spinal cord, all in just nine games. One month ago, McVay said this as the Rams prepared to open training camp: “We want to do everything in our power to make sure we’re protecting him. We left him … whether it was play call, scheme, there (are) a lot of different reasons. … We want to do a much better job of keeping him upright. There’s a lot of things that go hand in hand with that.”

Is McVay concerned that this group still doesn’t have a solidified five players not playing every single rep together, this close to the start of the 2023 season?

“You know what, I’m not going to waste my time with stuff that, hey — is it ideal? No. But it’s not something that I’m gonna waste any sort of time on,” he said. “When those guys are back, we’ll continue to coach them up. But in the meantime, we’ve got minimal opportunities to be able to get better.”

To Stafford’s credit, he’s feeling great right now and he said directly that he’s not concerned about all of the shuffling.

“I think everybody that has been in there has been doing a great job,” Stafford said, “and I think Wendy (Wendell) is doing a great job getting them ready to go. Whoever we have in there at the time, man, let’s go play. I can’t sit there and think about anything other than what I’m seeing on the back end, or trying to get us into the right play. Those guys have been doing a great job. I think the biggest thing that we’re stressing, and those guys are showing, is just (to) play with an attitude. We’re a big front when we got those guys out there. Go play physical.”

That’s fair, and a good comment by a team leader who just wants to just “go play.”

But up front, who will be doing that?

(Photo of Sean McVay: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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