It’s not very often that I criticize the Los Angeles Rams and Sean McVay. Through four years, McVay has given me some of the four best years of Rams football. Throughout most of my life, this is a team that has been the worst or one of the worst football teams in the NFL.
When the Rams first hired McVay, I was skeptical. He was the youngest head coach in the NFL and young head coaches didn’t have a history of succeeding. When the Rams signed Robert Woods, I was skeptical as Woods hadn’t shown he was capable of 1,000 yard seasons in Buffalo.
McVay proved me severely wrong in both cases and then did the impossible by making Jared Goff productive after his rookie season.
With that said, I usually give McVay and the Rams the benefit of the doubt. However, the current situation at center and the decisions that the Rams made this offseason around the position warrant rare criticism.
Rams Needing a Center
Coming into the offseason, the Los Angeles Rams had a need at center. With Austin Blythe on an expiring contract, the team either needed to bring him back or have some sort of plan to replace him. Bringing back Blythe made a lot of sense. It would have kept the cohesiveness that the Rams built last season on the offensive line which ranked third in the NFL via Pro Football Focus. Additionally, for a team that is built to win now, it would mean they wouldn’t have develop and put trust in a rookie center.
As it turns out, the Rams did neither. The Rams played chicken with Blythe and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. Blythe accepted less money to play for his hometown team.
Potential solutions in in Alex Mack signed with the San Francisco 49ers, David Andrews re-signed with the New England Patriots, and Joe Looney re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Top free agent center Corey Linsley was outside of the Rams’ price range.
The Chiefs shocked some by releasing Austin Reiter and he is still a free agent.
After losing Blythe in free agency and failing to sign a replacement, that left the NFL Draft.
A Deep Center Class in the NFL Draft
The 2021 NFL Draft was very deep at center and had exciting top talent. Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey dominated at the Senior Bowl and showed to be a top-talent that could fall into the second round. DIII prospect Quinn Meinerz also performed well at the Senior Bowl and showed that he brought a toughness and meanness to the position.
The Rams met with Meinerz multiple times, showing that the team had interest in the center prospect.
The board could not have fallen more perfectly for the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL Draft. At the 57th overall pick, the Rams essentially had their pick at center as only the injury prone Landon Dickerson had been selected. The Rams could have taken the top center prospect in Creed Humphrey, Ohio State’s Josh Meyers, Illinois’ Kenrick Green, or Meinerz.
Instead, the Rams opted for the 5’9, 155-lbs wide receiver in TuTu Atwell. Let it not be forgotten that the Rams signed DeSean Jackson in free agency AND drafted Van Jefferson with the 57th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That’s not to mention having Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods also on the roster.
The height at 5’9 isn’t as concerning at the 155-lbs. 155-lbs wide receivers simply don’t exist in the NFL. Small wide receivers such as Hollywood Brown, John Brown, and Steve Smith still have 25-30-lbs on TuTu Atwell.
While you can give the Rams credit for not necessarily drafting for need, the 57th overall pick was a situation in which need and best player available overlapped. Creed Humphrey had elite testing numbers at center as did Meinerz. When competent organizations like the Kansas City Chiefs take Creed Humphrey and then the Pittsburgh Steelers take Kendrick Green, you know those are good players.
The Rams dropped the ball.
Starting Austin Corbett
This left the only remaining option, and the least desirable when the offseason started. The Rams would need to take Austin Corbett who had success at guard and move him to center where he had very little experience. They would then have Bobby Evans move inside to guard to play Corbett’s old position.
This solution could work as Corbett had shown success in the Rams’ system. However, it was still a slight risk.
This is how the Rams started the offseason. Austin Corbett took every single first-team center rep throughout the offseason. The Rams didn’t test Brian Allen or even Coleman Shelton with the first team. This was Austin Corbett’s job. That was the case until Monday when out of the blue the Rams came out and said Brian Allen would be the team’s starting center.
Brian Allen Taking Over
On the Rams Training Camp Live, Sean McVay came out and said that if they were to play the Chicago Bears right now, Brian Allen would be the starting center.
Brian Allen starts out the day taking snaps for Matthew Stafford at center in situational 11 on 11s, with Austin Corbett at right guard. Obviously this is a change from…the entire spring and camp up until about Saturday. So that’s pretty interesting!
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 9, 2021
To say the decision is confusing doesn’t even begin to describe it. Brian Allen hasn’t taken a snap in 18 months since going out with a torn MCL during his rookie season. That rookie season also didn’t go very well as Brian Allen was a big reason for the offensive line struggling in 2019.
Among players with at least 500 snaps at center, Brian Allen’s 58.6 overall grade on Pro Football Focus was the eighth worst. His 45.4 pass blocking grade was the third worst. Now, Pro Football Focus isn’t the Bible by any means, but the point is, Brian Allen did not play well. He allowed 16 hurries which was the seventh most and his four quarterback hits allowed was the fourth most.
Brian Allen hasn’t done a lot for Rams fans to have confidence in him as a starting center in the NFL. While it’s very possible for players to improve, this seems like a very rash decision out of left field.
Again, the Rams had all spring and all summer to figure this out. Austin Corbett had taken every single first team rep. When it comes to the offensive line, building cohesiveness is important. The Rams waited until two days left of training camp to try a different combination.
There’s a reason that I don’t make the decisions for an NFL franchise, but it seems as if the Rams completely mishandled the center position from the jump this offseason.
A Case of De Ja Vu
Corbett was so successful at guard in 2020 after trading for him in 2019. Creed Humphrey was right there for the taking and the Rams took the 155-lb WR. Now we get the Brian Allen experiment 2.0.
An offensive line is only as good as its weakest point and it’s depth. It’s possible that the Rams see Brian Allen as less of a weak point than Bobby Evans and Austin Corbett as a very good guard. That mindset is very possible. However, the Rams had all offseason to come to that conclusion and they’re making the change in the final days of training camp.
Yes, the Rams have a weak schedule in the first few weeks of the season. They can certainly test out Brian Allen against the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts. If Allen doesn’t work, they can still move Corbett over. However, as mentioned, building cohesiveness on an offensive line is important.
Cohesiveness was something that the Rams lacked in 2019 and it showed in their performance. When the Rams were moving pieces around due to injuries, the offensive line struggled. Late in the season when they finally got some consistency with personnel up front, the offensive line play improved.
The Rams ignored the center position all offseason. They made their bed, now they have to lay in it. By trading the farm for Matthew Stafford, the Rams have a lot invested in this season. Hopefully the decision works out – their season depends on it.