Free agency is off to a very fast start across the NFL, with skill players Vincent Jackson, Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon all finding new homes and Reggie Wayne returning to his old one. So far the Rams are following a familiar pattern, though, locking down a key cog in the secondary and now chasing after a premier player on the right side of the offensive line in Eric Winston.
That is, if the Rams want Winston to play on the right side. He could play left just as well, potentially.
The Rams have obvious needs on both sides. On the right, Jason Smith is bombing out of his draft slot and potentially out of football, thanks to incessant injuries and poor technique/coaching. On the left, Rodger Saffold regressed badly as “the book” on the formerly promising rookie spread around the NFL – rush him inside. Rinse. Repeat. Of course, Jacob Bell was little help, and again we have to cast a withering eye to the departed offensive line coach, who failed to develop either player into the franchise rocks they were drafted to be.
Winston has been more than capable on the right side, rating consistently well in pass- and run-blocking over the past three years by Pro Football Focus. However, he played left tackle in college, and was well regarded in what turned out to be a very strong year for offensive tackles in the draft. The top ten tackles selected in 2006 are all still active in the league, with six of those ten starting 90 games or more.
I dug up an old post written by Winston (he’s quite the writer, having taken over MMQB for a week from Peter King) in 2009, talking about the switch from left tackle to right, and some of the differences between the two positions.
On switching sides:
I played Left Tackle all through college and then switched when I got to the Texans. I was switched because my arm length is not considered prototypical for a left tackle. I have normal length human arms, the NFL doesn’t want normal length, they want extra long. Long arms allows the tackle to hit the defender in pass protection before they can hit you. If you are wondering, I understand what they are saying, but I never have had a problem getting my hands on defenders.
Editor’s note: Winston’s arms measured 34″ in length at the 2006 combine, about average. Jake Long’s arms are slightly shorter, just for comparison.
On the hardest blocks to make:
To me, one of the hardest blocks to make is when you are to the open side (no TE next to you) and the play-action fake is coming your way. Think about selling out at a defensive end on a play-action pass hoping that he reads it as run and doesn’t blow by you up the field. It is a block that takes a ton of practice and self confidence. An old vet used to tell me, “if you believe, he’ll believe” and he was exactly right. (Thanks Ephraim.)
Editor’s note: considering Jeff Fisher’s commitment to the run and Sam Bradford’s play-fake ability, this is a critical skill to have.
The full article, archived in a fan forum, is well worth a read. Especially if this 6’7″ bruiser becomes a part of the Rams family.