Rams' O-line faces familiar challenge

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- If the St. Louis Rams projected starting offensive line can stay healthy, it has the talent and experience to be among the league's best.

The only problem is that the size of that "if" isn't done much justice in this font size. This is the next verse, same as the first when it comes to the Rams' offensive line. From left to right, the line has established Pro Bowlers and potential future Pro Bowlers. It also has an injury history that makes betting big on that group to stay together for 16 games a risky proposition.

About a week and a half into this training camp, the Rams are starting to get the projected pieces in place. Left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells returned to team drills last week as they recover from offseason knee surgery and an illness, respectively. Long and Wells form the experienced heartbeat of the line, the two most experience players upfront and two of the team's most veteran leaders in general.

Long is still slowly working his way into getting more reps but appears on track to play in some preseason games and be ready to start the season. Wells' return has been more accelerated as he's getting plenty of work in team drills.

Having Long and Wells back is a welcome sight for quarterback Sam Bradford and an added help to rookie left guard Greg Robinson.

"When Jake and Scotty are in the huddle, they just provide a ton of that veteran leadership on that line, especially with Greg in there," Bradford said. "I think having those two guys around him just helps him as far as communication goes so it’s really important for those guys to start jelling too. So the more we can get them on the field together, I think the better we're going to be."

Of course, no sooner did the Rams get Long and Wells back in the mix than right guard Rodger Saffold suffered an apparent stinger that has kept him out the past couple of practices. Such is the way things seem to go for this group.

The good news is that Saffold's latest issue doesn't seem serious and he should be back soon enough. The bad news is that Saffold having injury issues is nothing new. The same can be said of Wells and Long. That trio has combined to miss a total of 37 games over the past three seasons because of various ailments.

The Rams committed serious draft capital and dollars to the line in the offseason. They spent the No. 2 overall pick on Robinson, signed Saffold to a lucrative long-term deal and added veteran guard Davin Joseph on a one-year deal. Robinson and Saffold provide strong insurance in case anything happens to Long or right tackle Joe Barksdale.

Before Long returned and even now as he's working his way back into the mix, the Rams have taken the opportunity to get Robinson and Saffold some work at left tackle with Joseph filling in at guard.

“Well, that’s the big thing," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We’re going to move guys around. Again, we’re trying to create competition, putting Greg in different spots, Rodger in different spots .... They’ve been working hard. The communication now is so much easier for them. We make adjustments, they make adjustments, make calls. That just comes from playing together."

Which brings us back to the original question of just how much that group will play together. Aside from Joseph, only backup center Tim Barnes has any sort of meaningful game experience and even that is limited to four starts last season. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is adept at getting a lot from a little but if the Rams' line breaks out in another rash of injuries, it could easily derail their hopes of a breakthrough season.

"I think we’re coming together real well," Long said. "Especially in practice against this defensive line it makes us better every single day. Getting Davin, a veteran who has been to the Pro Bowl and is a great player, he’s doing a great job out there. We have been working hard and just pushing each other and it’s coming along good."

For this group, coming together isn't the issue. Staying together is.