ST. LOUIS — Disheartening news for quarterbacks not named Sam Bradford came Tuesday afternoon, when William Hayes explained why his defensive line, a unit that pestered as many pretty-boy play callers as any team in the NFL last season, should be even nastier this year.
“I expect us to exceed all the things we did last year,” said Hayes, a reserve defensive end and pass-rushing specialist. “If you think about it, that was a new defensive line. I don’t see us doing anything but getting better.”
The way Hayes sees it, last season was full of firsts. Defensive end Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks) played his first full season as a starter; starting tackle Kendall Langford (two sacks) played his first season somewhere other than end; and everyone — from rookie starting tackle Michael Brockers (four sacks) to starting end Chris Long (11.5 sacks) — adjusted to coach Jeff Fisher’s 4-3 scheme.
The Rams finished the year with 52 sacks in the midst of all that change, a total that tied the Denver Broncos for the most in the NFL. Thirty-nine times, those quarterbacks were driven to the dirt by a Rams defensive lineman. Hayes, who added six sacks, will happily tell you those numbers should increase.
Every defensive lineman who registered a sack last season is back this year, and first-year defensive coordinator Tim Walton isn’t planning on changing things when it comes to big boys who start with their hands on the ground.
“That’s the strength of our defense, you know, those guys up front,” Walton said Tuesday. “We have depth up there, and we are going to try to do things to complement them. Obviously, offenses are going to try to not let them repeat that. But we’re going to keep it going.”
Doing so will be key in the NFC West, a division that contains dual-threat quarterbacks in San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
“It’s important to get pressure on them,” Walton said. “The good thing that we have, we have a front four that can do it. We have depth at that position. And then, you know, we have some linebackers and defensive backs that can blitz and do things that can add pressure also, to give different looks, to try to not always have to rely on a four-man rush. But we have that as a tool to go to because those guys [defensive linemen] can go.”
Hayes doesn’t have a specific sack total in mind for his group.
Instead, a more lofty expectation.
“Our goal — and I think our goal every year — is to be able to go into every single game and dominate,” Hayes said. “At the end of the day, I want people to say, ‘That’s the best defensive line, from top to bottom.'”
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