ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Rams plan to open the season with a pair of rookie offensive linemen playing side by side. Tackle Rob Havenstein and guard Jamon Brown must be quick learners and make the gamble pay off.
Last year, the Rams had one rookie on the line. Tackle Greg Robinson was the second overall pick of the draft, so it was no surprise they cleared some space.
This summer, it's a lot different. Left guard Rodger Saffold is the lone veteran returning starter, and the center will come from a group of backups.
Coach Jeff Fisher said he'd been interested in drafting a new crop of offensive linemen since he arrived in St. Louis, and the Rams went all-in this May. They took Havenstein in the second round, Brown in the third, tackle Andrew Donnal in the fourth, guard Cody Wichmann in the sixth and tackle Isaiah Battle as a supplemental fifth-rounder before the start of training camp.
''It's an area we needed to focus on, it's an area we expect to be good for a long time,'' Fisher said. ''We have no concern about starting young people up front.
''If they are playing, they're ready to play.''
Saffold has 60 career starts, Robinson has 12 and center Tim Barnes has four. That's it. Center Barrett Jones has appeared in 10 career games and Demetrius Rhaney, who was on injured reserve all last summer, has yet to make his debut.
For Havenstein, the opportunity is ''pretty awesome.'' Brown said it's an ''honor'' to get this shot.
''We made it a point to make sure we weren't giving up negative plays or mistakes because we didn't know what we were doing,'' Havenstein said. ''We made it an emphasis during OTAs and during our break to know the ins and outs.''
So far, the expanded NFL playbook has not been information overload.
''Myself and Rob, we've been putting in the work to make sure we don't let anybody down,'' Brown said. ''For the most part I'm grasping the system pretty well.''
Both players have extensive college experience.
The 6-foot-7, 321-pound Havenstein played in a school-record 54 games at Wisconsin, including 41 consecutive starts at right tackle to end his career. He was part of a unit that produced two of the three best single-season rushing totals in school history, including a 320-yard average last year.
The 6-3, 323-pound Brown allowed two sacks at right tackle last year at Louisville. The Cardinals averaged 461 yards and scored 30 or more points nine times, and were more air-oriented.
Facing a defense in practices that amassed 40 sacks the last 11 games gives the duo a taste of what's to come. That unit is led by end Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald, the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
''Obviously we have a veteran group of defense linemen and they're saying, ''These guys are going to be good,''' Fisher said. ''Coming from those guys, that's pretty impressive.''
The Rams are likely to emphasize ball control, especially when first-round running back Todd Gurley is ready to play coming off left knee surgery.
''I don't think anything has been too eye-opening,'' Havenstein said. ''Obviously, the guys are bigger and faster and the playbook might be more complex, but it's still ball.''
About half the team put on pads for the first time with a spirited special teams practice Monday morning. The full squad practices in pads Tuesday.
''We kind of liven it up the last 20 minutes and see who can bang and battle,'' special teams coach John Fassel said.
NOTES: Fassel arrived at camp a hero. Last month while on vacation in Manhattan Beach, California, he helped rescue a swimmer that had gotten pulled into a riptide.
''It was my last day and quite an open-water experience,'' Fassel said. ''We got to him pretty quick, it happened fast.''
Fisher paid tribute to Fassel on the first day of training camp, saying ''We have a hero on the coaching staff.''
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