Illustration credit: Elliot Gerard of MKTG
The Los Angeles Rams have one of the league’s best offensive lines. It’s been a strange journey to reach this point in a multitude of ways.
Aaron Kromer couldn’t help himself. He had to run out of his meeting and give Josh Reynolds some love.
Kromer is the Rams offensive line coach, and watching the film of Los Angeles’ 30-22 over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional round, he saw a perfect block by Reynolds. The second-year wide receiver cut off DeMarcus Lawrence on the back side using a technique Kromer teaches his human mountains at tackle.
The total team commitment to blocking has helped propel the Rams to Super Bowl LIII. It all began in a space that is designed for the utmost communication.
Kromer eschewed the traditional theatre-style seating arrangements in his meeting room to install a U-shaped table. With the film running against the wall, Kromer and his charges sit together, staring across to see faces that have an equal say in how techniques and schemes will be coached up. The setup fosters discussion and engagement, traits that translate onto the field.
“I don’t have anybody I can’t have a football conversation with,” Kromer said. “That’s hard to find. Usually you have some athletic guys that have a hard time learning or that have a hard time understanding what you want, or they can’t do it. Our group can do it, and can communicate. Any time you have that, all you are doing is having a conversation and educating throughout the week.”
In truth, most members of the Rams’ offensive line had a circuitous path before arriving at this moment.
Andrew Whitworth spent 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals prior to signing with Los Angeles. As a free agent in 2017, Whitworth was courted by the Minnesota Vikings and former Bengals coordinator Mike Zimmer, but the hulking left tackle chose the Rams in part because Whitworth married his wife in their California-based destination wedding.
John Sullivan played seven years with the Vikings before signing a one-year deal as a backup center with the Washington Redskins, against his agent’s advice. The following year, Sean McVay left Washington for the head coaching job with the Rams, and Sullivan asked to be brought along. He was.
Austin Blythe was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, only to be waived a year later. After a year largely spent on the bench in Los Angeles, Blythe has claimed the starting job at right guard and become an integral addition.
All told, the Rams have only two homegrown starting offensive linemen in Rob Havenstein and Rodger Saffold. Regardless, the unit has come together splendidly, combining brains with desire.
“I don’t think it’s been super hard,” Havenstein said. “We have a bunch of great guys in the room, and I think it comes down to guys want to be good, want to be successful. It’s not all about the frills and stuff of playing in the NFL. We genuinely want to be a good offensive line.”
In Los Angeles, though, the blocking prowess extends beyond the big uglies.
While the entire NFL has shifted to more passing formations, nobody has gone to more 11 personnel (three receivers, a tight end and a back) as the Rams. Los Angeles plays that scheme almost exclusively, putting significant emphasis on blocking for the receivers.
Most teams will utilize and extra tight end on running plays or employ a fullback. McVay doesn’t bother, instead relying on his receivers to be heavily involved at the line of scrimmage and into the second level.
“Some of the things that we ask wide receivers to do are nothing short of spectacular,” Havenstein said. “They are in there cutting off defensive ends and inserting through gaps, asked to crack on plays. They are asked to do a lot of different things and it’s the guys we have in the room that, they are open to it. If we are going to play a lot of 11, and this is our scheme, then this is what being a Rams wide receiver is.”
Within the locker room, receiver Robert Woods has earned a nickname of “The Fullback,” given for his propensity of locking up safeties within the box.
Don’t expect anything to change in the Super Bowl. The Rams will be blocking in the trenches and on the perimeter, utilizing a year’s worth of conversations and lessons in their effort to win it all.