A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Right now, much like a large portion of the Rams’ offensive line, Jason Smith is fighting an injury (toe), but forecasting him to take a substantial step forward does not seem out of line at this point. In a massive understatement, St. Louis needs him to develop in a big way -- and soon.
This year, Smith moves to his more natural left tackle spot. I found it very curious that he wasn’t put there from the start last season and that decision may have stunted his development, as did injuries during his rookie year. But moving him where he was drafted to play was a step in the right direction -- as was drafting Rodger Saffold to man the right tackle spot. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, Saffold and Smith should all grow up together in this offense. While it may result in more hits than Bradford or management would like in 2010, it is a very stable long-term plan.
St. Louis also got rid of Richie Incognito and Alex Barron. Both linemen are very talented, but their approach to the game can be questionable. Getting such potential bad influences out of the offensive line meeting room was a wise long-term decision.
Smith has all of the tools you look for. His size and feet are superb, but more polishing with his technique against speed rushers would be a good idea. He didn’t flourish in his rookie season, but he didn’t appear overwhelmed either. Smith had a few bad games, but nothing catastrophic. Now he understands the speed of the game and what is expected of him at this level. Smith has had a full offseason to dedicate himself to develop into a top-notch starting left tackle.
But injuries to Smith and this entire line just can’t be ignored. As a rookie, he just wasn’t on the field very much. While St. Louis looks to have very solid prospects at both tackle spots and reliable veterans at left guard and center, the turnover with this unit on a week-to-week basis last year was very difficult to overcome. Continuity and having a great understanding of your linemates is paramount to success up front in the NFL. We just haven’t seen that of late, but there is hope for sure -- not only for Smith, but for the entire front wall.