EARTH CITY, Mo. -- To anyone paying attention, it's abundantly clear that St. Louis Rams rookie Rob Havenstein is the team's starting right tackle. From the day he arrived, he's taken all of the repetitions with the first-team offense at the position.
In his first NFL training camp, Havenstein is taking nothing for granted, which is why he won't hear it when he's asked about the pressure of starting as a rookie.
"That hasn’t been announced," Havenstein said. "My first objective right now, whether you guys believe it or not, is to actually make the team. That’s obviously going to be goal No. 1. Until that point comes, that’s my first objective. Any way I can help the team contributing: right tackle, left tackle, guard -- they want me to snap, I’ll learn how to snap. Anywhere I can help, I’ll be more than happy to get out there and just be able to be on the field."
Barring an injury or some major surprise, Havenstein should be on the field plenty in his first season. The Rams used a second-round pick on the 6-foot-7, 321-pound tackle out of Wisconsin with the intent to plug him into the lineup right away. Publicly, they continued to say they were interested in bringing back incumbent Joe Barksdale. But the writing was on the wall the moment Havenstein's name was called.
Since then, the Rams have been racing to get Havenstein and fellow rookie Jamon Brown, who is projected to start at right guard, up to speed. For Havenstein, the biggest part of that process is adjusting to the speed of the pass-rushers he's seeing every day in practice. With talented ends such as Chris Long and Robert Quinn testing him on a regular basis, it's been slow going for Havenstein early in camp.
"Those guys are burning off the edge, every single one of them," Havenstein said. "It’s the speed mixed with playbook when we have something new and you are really thinking about your assignment instead of walking up and already knowing. I’ll get to that point. I’m very confident about that, but for right now, especially on some of the stuff we do in the offense, if we switch a play or something, I have to really think about it right now to, 'OK, here to here that means we are going here,' etc. … Then you line up against the guys I line up against. If you are thinking too much, it’s going to get you beat just because you’re not really focused on if this guy is really shifting his weight inside or what he’s going to do."
Early returns indicate it's going to take Havenstein some time to develop in pass protection, but that was to be expected after the Rams drafted him. It's also worth noting that Havenstein doesn't cut the shadow of a typical Wisconsin tackle. He's longer and leaner than might be expected, given some of the stouter tackles who have gone through the Badgers program.
Still, the Rams are counting on Havenstein to play and play well right away. Count Long among those who see a lot of upside in Havenstein.
"Will [Hayes] and I think the tackle has a lot of potential," Long said. "He’ll be solid for us and two, three years from now. He’ll be very good. I really believe that. This year, he has just got to be good. He’s a rookie and he’s going to have his ups and downs, but he’s fully capable of doing that. He’s athletic, he’s big, he’s long and he’s coachable and has the right attitude and is a hard worker."
Now that the Rams are in full pads, the expectation is that Havenstein and the rest of the offensive line will be able to keep up with the Rams' deep and talented defensive front. When they practiced on Tuesday, Havenstein had some positive moments in the one-on-one pass-rush drills, but also struggled at times in the team session. Such is life in adjusting to the many complications of protecting the edge in the NFL.
But Havenstein seems level-headed and intelligent enough to know that ups and downs are part of the deal as long as they don't become a regular part of his arsenal when the real games begin.
"I would say I don’t get too frustrated anyway," Havenstein said. "The best guys are the most even-keeled guys, so every day they are the same person. That’s kind of what I want to strive to be every single day. I want to be a good, solid offensive lineman every single day. I don’t want to be great one day and then bad one day. I don’t want to make that roller-coaster ride. I want to be the same."