Is it Time for the St. Louis Rams to Play Greg Robinson at Left Tackle?


Make no mistake: there were plenty of negative observations to take away from the St. Louis Rams’ 31-17 Monday night loss to the San Francisco 49ers. If there was one thing that stood out above all others, especially in the first half, it was that left tackle Jake Long is no longer the player that earned the number one overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, made four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-2011, and earned a four-year, $36 million-dollar contract from the Rams prior to last season.

It looks like Long is still suffering from the aftermath of the torn ACL and MCL that he suffered near the end of last season. The 29-year-old obviously struggles to get into a three-point stance, and even from his two-point pass-blocking stance it looks like he’s struggling to get optimum knee bend.

It was actually sad to watch Long, who once was such a physically dominant blocker, perform on Monday. The 6-foot-7, 322-pound mammoth of a man, who was extremely powerful during his prime, put a minimal amount of power into the majority of his blocks against San Francisco. Sure, he still completed his assignments and got to his men, but we saw the drop-off once he got there, as where we would once see him drive a defender back on a run block or lock out a pass rusher, he instead just got a brief push on his run blocks and frequently got driven back as a pass blocker.

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For the first time as a Ram, we really saw Long become a liability to his quarterback (and his team as a whole, for that matter). 49ers outside linebacker Dan Skuta dominated Long for a sack which forced a fumble and could have caused a turnover had Rams center Scott Wells not recovered it.

Though it’s customary for some players to take a while to return to form following an injury like Long suffered, the Rams have a bit of a unique situation on their hands. They selected Auburn’s Greg Robinson with the number two overall pick in this year’s draft with the idea that he would be the left tackle of the future. The plan was for the rookie to step in immediately at left guard and then move to tackle after he had gotten his feet wet as an NFL lineman. Every tortured Rams fan knows how that’s worked out so far, though: Robinson spent the first four games of the season on the bench while veteran Davin Joseph started ahead of him, until the coaching staff finally bit the bullet and started him at left guard against San Francisco.

Robinson had some rookie hiccups in his debut as a starter, but was pretty solid overall, and a decent argument could actually be made that he was the most consistent lineman on Monday. With that in mind, the question almost certainly has to come up about whether Robinson may be better served to start working at his long-term position of left tackle.

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Just to be clear, no one should be expecting Robinson to step in and be a dominant left tackle right away. It should have been apparent to those who watched the 6-foot-5, 332-pounder play in college that he has a lot of work to do on his technique. For starters, he needs to polish his pass blocking skills and do better work with getting set and extending his arms. In addition to that, though, there’s still some visible timidness to his approach; he tends to go to the ground more than he probably needs to.

With that said, the Rams have to be realistic about the situation they’re in. They have a 1-4 record, and they still have two games against the defending Super Bowl champions, another game against the team they beat to win that Super Bowl, plus another two against the Arizona Cardinals, who are somehow 4-1 and leading the NFC West. The chances of this team winning at least eight of their final 11 games and turning into a contender this year are very slim, so why not let loose their left tackle of the future and try to get him up to speed for next year?

Obviously, any team that invests a top-five pick in a player wants to start getting a solid return on their investment as soon as possible, so if that’s the strategy it would probably be better for Robinson to get his growing pains out of the way this year instead of during the early part of next year, when he would presumably be scheduled to kick outside. One could counter and say that the Rams need to try to get a return on their significant investment in Long. At this point, though, that contract is pretty much a sunk cost; all his guaranteed money was paid out over the first two seasons of the deal.

Long may be the better left tackle than Robinson right now, but giving the rookie the final 11 games of the season could do wonders for his confidence at the position going into next year. And if the Rams can create a tackle tandem of Robinson on the left side and Joe Barksdale, who is a free agent after this year, at right tackle heading into next season, they could position themselves to have a much stronger offensive line in 2015.