ST. LOUIS — If the surest way to improve is to take on someone stronger than you, then the Rams should be set at offensive left tackle. Or defensive right end. Or both.
The answer depends largely on whom you consider the better player, left tackle Jake Long or right end Robert Quinn.
The first pick in the 2008 draft, Long has been to four Pro Bowls so he owns the more impressive resume. Despite being hampered by injuries over the past two seasons, he still was able to score a four-year, $34 million deal from the Rams, who wisely decided to invest in the protection of quarterback Sam Bradford.
The 14th pick in the 2011 draft, Quinn finished with 10.5 sacks last year in just his second season, his first as a full-time starter. If he continues to show similar improvement, he undoubtedly will have Pro Bowls in his future.
Says Quinn about Long: “Jake has some of the best feet on an O-lineman you’ll see.”
And Long on Quinn: “He’s quick, he’s shifty, he’s powerful and he’s getting better every single day.”
The two players are in an ideal position to assess each other’s games. They have been going head to head every day in training camp for the 20-or-so plays when the first-team offense faces the first-team defense. Including a muggy Monday afternoon practice that left both linemen dripping, they already have squared off a few hundred times through nearly three weeks of camp. They aren’t going full-out game speed but they’re not slacking.
“If you’re a good team, you shouldn’t pace yourself,” Long said. “For the guys up front, we have to come off hard. We gotta act like it’s game speed. We’re not going to roll guys up and stuff but we have to go as hard as we can. He’s giving me his moves and I’m trying to punch (block) him as hard as I can.” Long said.
When the Rams played at Miami last year, Long went home with bragging rights. The Dolphins won 17-14 and Quinn went without a sack a week after having a huge game against Arizona. “I was impressed with him then,” Long said.
So who’s winning the camp competition?
“It’s back and forth,” Quinn said. “Sometimes he gets me, sometimes vice versa. We don’t want to beat up each other too bad. We can go 90 (percent) when the difference between 90 and 100 is not trying to kill each other. We get our good work in and save each other for game time.”
Ah, there’s the key. The real winner of these one-on-one practice battles, of course, should be the Rams. If two of the team’s best players are improving, the team should benefit even more than the individuals.
While the Rams’ offense has plenty to prove after ranking 23rd last season, the defense’s goal is to move into the top 10, at least. New defensive coordinator Tim Walton already has raised his standards on grading players in camp.
“Coach Walton really is nit-picking,” Quinn said with a smile. “But it raises our bar and hopefully carries over to the games so we will be a dominant D line and that carries over to be a dominant defensive team.”
If Quinn and his defense dominate, Long can take some credit. And it really won’t matter who is better.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.