NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
Rams muscle up with Robinson, Donald
The strategy for the St. Louis Rams in the first round of this year's draft became clear when their two selections were made.
"We needed to address both sides of the ball upfront," a smiling coach Jeff Fisher said. "You have to be physical in this division, and we accomplished that."
They did it by picking Auburn tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall choice and then adding Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald 11 picks later.
So intent were the Rams on upgrading the offensive line that they were prepared to trade with the Baltimore Ravens for the 17th pick in the first round, but that option disappeared when the Dallas Cowboys selected tackle Zack Martin.
Said Fisher, "It would have been pricey but worth it." The Rams' next pick is in the second round, 44th overall.
As it was, the Rams ended up with the 6-foot-5, 332-pound Robinson, who general manager Les Snead described as "a dancing bear, no doubt about it." Snead said the ability Robinson has to bend at that height is unusual.
Said Fisher, "He's very, very athletic and learns very well. Boo (line coach Paul Boudreau) will get him going."
Fisher acknowledged that Robinson will likely begin his career at guard.
The Rams' starters last season were Jake Long at left tackle and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. Rodger Saffold, who opened the 2013 season at right tackle, eventually was switched to right guard and when Saffold was re-signed as an unrestricted free agent in March, it was with the intention to play him at guard.
Long suffered a torn ACL late last season, but the Rams believe he will be ready for the start of the regular season. The interest in having Robinson play guard at the outset is so his inexperience as a pass blocker won't be exposed early.
Robinson acknowledged the work he needs as a pass blocker, and said, "There's a few things I need to work on. I look forward to working on that, taking it from the coaches and learning from other players."
As for playing guard, Robinson said, "Whatever they ask, I'm willing to do. I will work hard to step in and help anywhere I can."
Snead said the Rams were so glad to get Donald that they never considered trading down. "We're jacked with the pick," he said. "He's very productive and way ahead at this point in hand use. He's an impressive young man."
Although Donald is 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Snead said he won't be asked to get bigger. "His game isn't size," Snead said. "He's short, but that helps him get leverage. Getting bigger wouldn't help him. His game is not size. His game is to penetrate."
And that he did, totaling 66 tackles for loss in four seasons at Pittsburgh, including 28.5 in 2013.
For his part, Donald said he's "excited" to be with the Rams. "They have the best defensive line in the NFL and I'm pumped up to be a part of it," he said. "I can't wait to get with the coaches and get to work."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who measures just a tad under 6-foot-1 (6-63/4) and is 285 pounds, was asked if he has a chip on his shoulder because of his size.
Donald said, "Not at all. I never let that get to me because letting it get to me isn't going to make me any taller and it isn't going to make me any better. All I can do is worry about what I have to do and that's football, going out to compete and make a play. Never let it get to you. I just love to play the game of football and compete."
Donald was with his family in Pittsburgh and not in New York City, despite being invited by the NFL to the draft. He said, "It's just not who I am. I'm not the red-carpet guy and the cameras. I just wanted to be around my family and who it all started with. They've all been here since day one, and just be with my family, back where it all started and that's in Pittsburgh."
Noting what it took to have as many tackles for loss as he did last season, Donald said, "It's hard work, learning the game, watching non-stop film and going out there to compete and playing fast. It started in the film room learning my opponent, breaking it down."
--Further amplifying the team's goal to upgrade in the trenches, general manager Les Snead responded when asked about those on the outside that were hoping for more "sizzle" wioth the team's early picks.
He said, "It's always interesting in the draft, and I know Jeff will tell you, football teams, you build from the inside-out. And I always say that's when you're building your foundation and at the end of the day, I agree, when you lay your foundation for your skyscraper, it's probably the least exciting thing that you do but that's the thing that holds that skyscraper up for a lot of years. I understand your question, but it was definitely a strategy that we're going to get our foundation stronger and I think that's going to help us."
--Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner is eager to play wherever the Rams want in the secondary. When asked if he has a position preference, Joyner said, "No, when I came on my visit up there with the top 30, coach (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) asked me that same question and I told him, 'coach, I'm a defensive back. I don't like to limit myself.' I play corner, I play nickel, I play safety. Wherever we are weak in the secondary, I'm going to make the team better, because I'm going to give my all and make that position better. I'm a team person, so I'm going to do whatever coach wants me to do in the secondary."
Joyner will be reunited with former teammate Greg Reid, who was on his way to an outstanding career when he was dismissed from school for off-field issues in 2012, then suffered a torn ACL after transferring to Valdosta State. Reid hasn't played in a game since 2011 and was signed by the Rams as a free agent this offseason.
"That's going to be great," Joyner said of being with Reid. "It's so special that, you know, to watch a guy like Greg Reid get recruited before me, coming out of high school and then to play at Florida State with him before he went through his devastating moment. Now to see him at the next level and I'm coming right behind him again, it's like nothing changed but the weather. It's like deja vu and it's great. I love Greg Reid. He's a great person and he's a great player."
Reid is the Florida State's career kickoff return leader, while Joyner is second.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Rams exercised their fifth-year option on defensive end Robert Quinn. Quinn, drafted 14th overall in 2011, will earn $6.969 million in 2015.
Quinn, one of the top defensive players in the NFL, had 57 tackles (18 for loss), 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013. His 29.5 combined sacks in the last two seasons give Quinn the second-highest total in the NFL over that time period, trailing only 2011 draft classmate J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.
--SAFETY: T.J. McDonald was a solid pick in 2013 and quickly became a starter, but more depth is needed, especially after Darian Stewart departed in free agency and Matt Giordano remains an unrestricted free agent. Rodney McLeod started last season, but the Rams could be trying to improve at that spot.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--CB Quinton Pointer (not tendered as ERFA) contributed on special teams during his brief stint on the active roster.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Matt Giordano provides rare experience at the safety spot and contributed on special teams. He could return at the veteran minimum.
--QB Brady Quinn ended the season on injured reserve because of a back problem and would be considered an extreme longshot to be re-signed.
--LB Will Witherspoon could be at the end of the line. He was signed last summer after the Jo-Lonn Dunbar suspension was announced, and rarely played from scrimmage after he returned.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--C Tim Barnes (tendered at $570,000) started and held his own late in the season when Scott Wells was injured.
--QB Austin Davis: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar: UFA; $2.006M/2 yrs, $128,821 guaranteed.
--G Rodger Saffold: UFA; $31.347M/5 yrs, $5M SB/$19.5M partially guaranteed/$11M fully guaranteed.
--WR Justin Veltung: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--WR Kenny Britt: UFA Titans; $1.4M/1 yr, $550,000 guaranteed.
--DL Alex Carrington: UFA Bills; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Shaun Hill: UFA Lions; $1.75M/1 yr, $500,000 guaranteed.
--QB Kellen Clemens: UFA Chargers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Harvey Dahl (released).
--CB Cortland Finnegan (released).
--TE Mike McNeill: Not tendered as RFA/Panthers; $1.52M/2 yr, $100,000 SB.
--G Shelley Smith: UFA Dolphins; $5.5M/2yrs, $500,000/SB/$1.5M guaranteed.
--S Darian Stewart: UFA Ravens; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G Chris Williams: UFA Bills; $13.5M/4 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.