OXNARD, Calif. -- Two short offseasons ago you couldn't take part in any conversation about the NFL's best pass-rushers without Los Angeles Rams defensive end Robert Quinn's name figuring prominently.
Quinn was coming off a franchise record-setting 19 sacks in the 2013 season. That dominance landed him first-team All-Pro honors and his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Pro Football Focus rated Quinn the No. 2 player in the league, the NFL Network placed him 13th and ESPN.com declared him the sixth-best defensive player.
Fast-forward to this offseason and Quinn appears on no such lists. In fact, he's become something of a forgotten man, lost in equal parts because of the back injury that cost him half of last season and the emergence of teammate Aaron Donald.
As Quinn continues to rehabilitate from back surgery, he's not exactly keeping detailed notes on those who have forgotten what he can do, but he does acknowledge that he's aware of it.
"I’m not the first to have an injury or overcome an injury, but not having half the season, of course you get put into the shadows a little bit," Quinn said. "I don’t need other people to motivate me. Seeing some of that stuff might somewhat add some fire, but at the end of the day I have got my personal goals I want to achieve and that would turn the doubters into believers. I just come to work, put a smile on and see what I’ve got to prove to myself and no one else. I think that’s the way everyone should approach the game."
That approach allowed Quinn to post 50 sacks in his first four and a half seasons. But 2015 saw Quinn on the outside looking in for the first time in his career. After playing the first five games, Quinn was mysteriously absent from the team's bye-week practices. When the Rams returned to action, Quinn played 23 snaps against Cleveland. He played again the following week against San Francisco before sitting out at Minnesota.
In Week 10 against Chicago, Quinn played 14 snaps before shutting it down for the season. Throughout that time, Quinn dealt with knee and hip issues, but it was his back that ultimately needed the attention.
As you can imagine, back surgery was no joke, but Quinn is starting to feel normal again.
"Fresh out of surgery it was real rough," Quinn said. "I guess I’m six or so months out now, so it’s starting to feel more normal, in the weight room I’m pretty much full go, out here just playing it slow. They’ve got a good plan set up for me. I just listen to the trainers. Whatever they allow me to do, I go out and do. But again, we’ve still got some time before they really let me go full tilt."
Indeed, the Rams are allowing Quinn to get back to a normal regimen in the weight room, though he says he's not back to where he once was in terms of lifting. During organized team activities, Quinn said the Rams are allowing him to do some individual work, and he does some extra conditioning on the side, but the plan is to take it easy during practices.
"I’m not trying to rush it," Quinn said. "It’s a pretty serious injury and you don’t want to mess it up again. I’m just taking my time. We’ve got plenty of time before the season. The trainers here have been working well with me."
Quinn hasn't yet been told a plan beyond OTAs, which means it's unclear if he'll be ready to go at the start of training camp.
"It’s all on the trainers," Quinn said. "This is their game plan. They say one thing one day and then say, 'Relax.' It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll see throughout OTAs what they allow me to do and then they’ll probably put a game plan in for me for training camp also."
When Quinn does get back to action, the Rams will count on him to return to form. The two-time Pro Bowler is a key to the defense, and with Donald able to wreak havoc inside, it's reasonable to expect opposing offenses to allow Quinn more one-on-one opportunities as they focus on trying to slow Donald.
If Quinn can get back to a reasonable approximation of his formerly dominant self, it would go a long way toward helping the Rams defense finally deliver on expectations.
"It’s a long process to get back to my old self, but one day at a time I’m feeling more and more comfortable," Quinn said. "Overall, I’m feeling pretty good."