As Sunday's loss in San Francisco wasn't bad enough, the St. Louis Rams suffered devastating injuries along the offensive line, leaving them young and inexperienced heading into this week's matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
Left tackle Jake Long, who came in as a free agent this past off season to anchor the line, left the Niners game with a concussion. It's unclear at this time whether he'll be able to go on Sunday. As of Wednesday, he still hadn't been cleared to practice. If he can't go, Rodger Saffold will slide from right guard back to his old left tackle position.
The most serious injury happened to center Scott Wells, who suffered a broken leg and is out for the rest of the season. That moves Tim Barnes into the starting lineup. The good news is that Barnes and QB Kellen Clemens have had a lot of work together with the second unit over the past two years.
“The good news is I’ve (Clemens) been taking snaps from ‘Barnesy’ for a couple years. So, it’s kind of just like riding an old bike. You just kind of get back on and go. We didn’t hardly even take any snaps at halftime last week and didn’t have any problems. So, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over it.”
Veteran guard Harvey Dahl will be back this week, so that should help ease the transition if Saffold has to play tackle. All the shuffling has also pushed rookie C/G Barrett Jones into the mix. He now is the number one reserve at both guard and center. When asked if he thought Jones was ready for his first game action, head coach Jeff Fisher sounded confident Jones was up to the task.
“Barrett has done a real good job in the weight room, and he’s gained a lot of strength. So, he’ll be ready to go. Obviously, he’ll know what to do and how to do it, he just hasn’t had an opportunity.”
The Rams will be facing yet another top 10 defensive unit in Arizona. The Cardinals are an aggressive bunch who like to get after the quarterback, putting added pressure on a St. Louis offensive line unfamiliar with one another. Arizona ranks seventh in total defense and has sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times, just three fewer than the Rams' total. Their ability to get pressure combined with ball-hawking cornerbacks has resulted in 15 interceptions this season, just two off the league lead.
At least publicly, Jeff Fisher and Kellen Clemens view Sunday's game in Arizona as a test for them. Privately, however, they have to be concerned about sending an offensive line lacking in continuity out against such a sack-happy defense while having to contend with the raucous crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium.
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