EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Rams defensive end Robert Quinn impressed just about everyone with his three-sack, two forced fumble performance against the Arizona Cardinals in week 1. Everyone, that is, except defensive line coach Mike Waufle.
Waufle leads the Rams’ band of quarterback-chasing brothers by always keeping his eye on the next play, the next practice or the next game. When his linemen reach a goal, he sets the bar higher.
When a player like Quinn dominates a game and wins NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, Waufle is proud but far from satisfied.
“It was a good day at the office, a good start,” Waufle concedes.
Perhaps in part because he knows better than anyone what Quinn’s true upside is as the end enters his third season, Waufle wants to do everything possible to push Quinn to reach it.
When the Rams drafted Quinn with the 14th pick in the 2011 NFL draft, they knew they were getting a fast-twitch player who would instantly be one of the best pound-for-pound athletes on the team. They also knew they were getting a player who hadn’t played college football in 2010 and was going to be a bit of a project.
Quinn did just fine in his first two seasons, posting 15.5 sacks, but his pure speed and athleticism were enough to hit those marks.
So, with the help of Waufle and his fellow linemen, Quinn has set about looking to find ways to add more moves to his repertoire.
“I have been trying to incorporate more of an inside move, working on chops, stuff like that and just diversifying to be a better pass-rusher,” Quinn said. “That way offensive linemen don’t just have to focus on one thing. You have to be a master of all, which is tough to do, but that’s our job to do so we work at our craft, try to get better each week.”
Even in Quinn’s award-winning performance against Arizona and left tackle Levi Brown, Quinn showed glimpses of a more diverse skill set, but still won each of his three sacks by using his speed to bend the edge.
On the first sack, the Rams rushed four and Quinn used his hands to quickly knock away Brown’s attempts to engage. Quinn then quickly gets around the edge and chops down on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer's arm to come up with a sack and a forced fumble.
On sacks two and three, fellow defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims lined up in the middle and bookend Chris Long was in his usual spot opposite Quinn. A pure speed rush around the edge allowed Quinn to blow past Brown, who barely touched him on his way to the quarterback.
Out of those three sacks, the best sign for the Rams moving forward could actually be the two forced fumbles. The Rams had 10 forced fumbles in 2012, tied for 24th in the league and recovered four, which was second to last.
Quinn said he has made it a point to work on his version of the tomahawk chop. He said the coaching staff preaches to go for the arm instead of the ball because it offers a greater surface area to target and can have the same effect.
“The most important thing is coach Fisher wants us to get turnovers,” Waufle said. “He wants us to get that ball out and we were able to accomplish that. We have got to be better at what we do, and the consistency factor has to be great to help our team.”
Beyond the sacks and fumbles, the best sign of progress for Quinn might have come in the third quarter when Brown shaded him to the outside and Quinn used his left arm to knock Brown away as he rushed to the inside. The play didn’t result in a sack, but it did draw a holding penalty on Brown and showed Quinn’s developing understanding of how to take advantage of what one move can do to set up another.
“I’m one of the smaller [defensive] ends in the league, so I am not going to try to lift up a 300 pound tackle all the time,” Quinn said. “You have got to mix it up, incorporate different things, think outside the box and keep your opponent off balance. That way he can’t focus on one thing. Once you get him off balance, you are the aggressor now on what you decide to do and have him reacting to you. You have got to set the tone early, but definitely you can’t do one thing over and over again, because people will adjust to it.”
In his young career, Quinn now has two three-sack games, both against Arizona with tackle D'Anthony Batiste and Brown as the primary victims. Waufle is quick to point out that even though Quinn had six sacks in those games, that also implies they blocked Quinn on a large number of plays, also.
The next step for Quinn is to continue to improve against the run and use his developing moves to consistently beat some of the league’s elite tackles. He’ll see plenty this season with two dates against San Francisco’s Joe Staley and Seattle’s Russell Okung, and another game against Houston’s Duane Brown, among others.
Waufle mentions words like precision and timing as areas Quinn can still improve, but he says it’s important not to rush Quinn into trying to do too much too soon.
“He’s a young player so he’s developing a number of things, but you only take one thing at a time,” Waufle said. “You don’t want to try to give him a whole handful and be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. He’s working on specifics and getting better. He still has a lot of work to do.”