THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Perhaps no NFL team improved at one position more than the Los Angeles Rams did at one of the game's most important ones.
The Houston Texans have seemingly made a significant upgrade at quarterback, going from Brock Osweiler to Deshaun Watson. The same can probably be said about the New York Jets at strong safety, from Calvin Pryor to Jamal Adams. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars at defensive end, from Tyson Alualu to Calais Campbell. But it's nearly impossible to match the Rams on Jared Goff's blind side.
Consider: Whitworth, guaranteed $15 million at the age of 35, has allowed one quarterback pressure through this season's first four games, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, Robinson -- the former No. 2 overall pick who was recently called "lazy" by an opponent -- allowed 40 pressures in 14 starts.
You can make the case that Whitworth's presence -- more so than Goff's turnaround, Todd Gurley's surge, the overhaul at receiver, or even Sean McVay's scheme -- has been the main catalyst in the Rams' offensive breakthrough.
"He's made a huge influence and impact on our team," McVay said. "Not only on our offense, but on our team."
Whitworth's presence alone has helped the Rams' offensive line go from a major weakness to a major strength, one that has allowed only four sacks on Goff and has helped Gurley average a more respectable 4.2 yards per carry. But it isn't just Whitworth's play that has made an impact; it's his ability and desire to mentor others, most notably right tackle Rob Havenstein, who did a masterful job of blocking NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Lawrence on Sunday.
Havenstein, 25, calls Whitworth "one of the best to ever do it."
"I don't want to downplay that at all," Havenstein said, "but it's definitely great to have someone to ask all those little questions to. One of the biggest things is you feel welcomed to ask him, and he feels happy to help."
Whitworth is a captain on the Rams, even though it's his first season with them. McVay credited Whitworth with helping him as a first-year head coach, as someone he trusts to take the pulse of the locker room. Whitworth has started 168 of a possible 180 games in his 12-year NFL career, making three trips to the Pro Bowl along the way. But he didn't impose himself on teammates, McVay said. Whitworth let his work and his play speak for him, and he waited for others to seek him out as a byproduct of it.
"A lot of young people in today's society believe that leadership is the loudest person in the room, or the person who's always commanding people," Whitworth said. "To me, that's not leadership. That's just a loud voice; just someone who's assertive. There's a difference. Leadership, to me, is about the ability to have people want to hear what you have to say. People want to be around you, people want to believe in what you tell them, and they feel good when they walk away from you about who they are and what they're doing."
Whitworth has studied the elite athletes from other sports, whether it's Michael Jordan in basketball, Nolan Ryan in baseball or Wayne Gretzky in hockey. He also studied the great leaders in this country's history, namely Martin Luther King Jr. He wanted to know what made them special; what it was that allowed them to empower others. He wanted to take a little bit from all of them.
"You learn the most by listening," Whitworth said. "And so to me, always just listening, always just paying attention, and finding out what it is that people see in somebody like them. You find those things and you try to figure out how to fit them into who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to lead."
Whitworth has helped Havenstein with his technique, but he has also taught the third-year pro how to break down film on a deeper level. Whitworth's mentorship began as early as the Rams' offseason program in the spring, but it wasn't just with Havenstein. It was with Andrew Donnal, Darrell Williams, Jamon Brown and, before he was traded to the Detroit Lions, even Robinson himself.
Some nuggets to help put the difference between Whitworth and Robinson in perspective, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:
Robinson has seen more penalties called on him this season (four) than Whitworth has allowed pressures (one) and penalties (one) combined.
Robinson has allowed 19 quarterback pressures on 156 pass-blocking snaps, more than Whitworth and Havenstein (12) combined on 247 pass-blocking snaps.
The entire Rams offensive line has allowed 36 total quarterback hits and quarterback hurries, and none of them have come from Whitworth.
"I still haven't played good enough yet," Whitworth said. "I don't ever think a day is a perfect day. There's always something. In my mind most of the time, a play that probably wasn't a pressure, or didn't look bad, I probably was pissed off about it. My mentality is always to seek perfection, and you'll find that if you can get somewhere close to it, or in the vicinity of that, that's good."