Even before his defensive line became the focal point of a defense that tied for the league lead in sacks in 2012, Rams general manager Les Snead pinpointed that unit as the strength of his team.
At the time, it was obvious why: the starting quartet had three first-round picks (Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers) and a high-priced free agent (Kendall Langford) leading the charge. But Snead knew something that nobody else really did; the Rams were flush with more depth at the position than they'd had in a long time.
On Monday afternoon, the Rams re-inforced those beliefs by doing a little work on Labor Day, signing backup lineman Eugene Sims on a two-year contract extension. Sims' contract will carry him through the 2015 season, and allows the Rams to keep their collection of young defensive linemen together for at least that period of time.
Sims is the first pending free agent in next year's potential class to get an extension this summer. That's not a coincidence given the value the Rams clearly put on having a strong defensive line.
Only defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, who signed a two-year extension of his own in the offseason, is not under contract beyond 2014. The Rams also signed end William Hayes to a three-year contract in the offseason.
Since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle, the Rams have built a defense that is largely predicated on getting pressure from the front four. While Long and Quinn are the primary ends, Sims and Hayes get plenty of work.
Sims played 411 snaps in 2012, which was highest among the team's backup linemen and 12th on the defense as a whole. Along the way, he posted 20 tackles, the first three sacks of his career and an interception. He also provides the line with a good bit of versatility. Known primarily for his run-stopping ability, Sims has been a developmental pass-rusher since he entered the league as a sixth-round pick out of tiny West Texas A&M in 2010.
Considering that, Sims spends a lot of his time at end on running downs, but kicks inside when the Rams want to ratchet up the pass rush. At times last season, Sims and Hayes would play inside on obvious passing downs with Long and Quinn as the bookends.
Those looks are nothing new around the league, but only teams with ends they believe in can change so easily on the fly. Judging by Monday's extension, the Rams clearly believe in Sims.