EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In what has become a seemingly never-ending game of musical offensive linemen, the St. Louis Rams will likely have two inexperienced starters at both guard spots against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
After starting rookie Cody Wichmann at right guard and veteran Garrett Reynolds at left guard last week, the Rams lost right tackle Andrew Donnal to a knee injury, forcing Reynolds to right tackle and bringing backup center Demetrius Rhaney in at right guard, with Wichmann moving to the left side.
Without Donnal and given right tackle Rob Havenstein's continued struggles with a calf injury, the Rams now will probably find themselves starting the five linemen who finished their last game. That means another chance for Wichmann and Rhaney on the interior.
After a small bite of the apple in Week 11, Rhaney and Wichmann are hoping to be better this time around.
"I felt pretty good," Rhaney said. "Mentally I was locked in, no mental mistakes. My technique could have been better, but this week it looks like I’m going to be starting at left guard so technique should be a lot better this week. That’s the main thing I’m focusing on improving."
If Rhaney is correct and he starts on the left side, that would at least allow for Wichmann to start at the same spot for the second week in a row. Rhaney played both guard spots in the preseason but was mainly on the left side until just before the team's preseason game against Indianapolis. Just before that contest, Rhaney flipped over to the left side.
But most of Rhaney's preseason was spent battling for the role as starting center, a job he lost to Tim Barnes. Since, he's worked as a backup at all three interior spots.
The Week 11 loss to Baltimore was Rhaney's first extended action aside from special teams. In his own evaluation of his play, Rhaney said he felt comfortable but didn't deny having his own "welcome to the NFL" moment as Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams beat him and got to running back Todd Gurley quickly in the backfield.
"I talked to coach Bou [offensive-line coach Paul Boudreau] and said we got to cut him, that’s a grown man out there," Rhaney said. "It was a rude awakening. Him beating me across my face was a technique issue. I took a bad first step."
In an effort to get up to speed, Rhaney said injured guard Rodger Saffold has been helping him with technique this week.
"He stayed back and worked with me on a few technique things, my steps and my hands and hand placement," Rhaney said.
Wichmann had his own rude welcome, though he wasn't as forthcoming with the exact play or players that gave him trouble.
"I might have got put on my butt once or so," Wichmann said. "That’s always a welcome to the NFL. But I’m just glad to be here. I’ll take that once in a while as long as it doesn’t happen often."
As a primary backup playing exclusively at guard, Wichmann has worked at both sides and feels plenty comfortable either place.
"At this point, switching between left and right is not too big of a deal anymore," Wichmann said. "But I played there all throughout college so it will be a little bit easier."
A sixth-round pick in this year's NFL draft, Wichmann came with less acclaim than many of his draftmates, but the Rams rave about his and Donnal's toughness and functional strength. The Rams almost certainly would have preferred not to have to dig so deep into the depth chart, but they'll at least get a better idea of what they have with a closer look at the likes of Rhaney and Wichmann in the starting lineup.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher expects more from both young linemen in their second opportunity.
“That’s usually the case, especially when you’re talking about Cody, who got to play," Fisher said. "It was the first time that he got to play. So yeah, I think he’ll learn from the speed of the game, learn from his mistakes and he should get better. It’s a tough week to get better against this defense, but I expect Cody to improve and same thing with ‘D.’”