The Jason Smith Conundrum

You know, I'm not normally real big on preseason football. Unlike spring training in baseball, it's hard to really follow the position battles and the like in football. Guys get shifted around so much even during the season that where a particular guy is playing in a particular game really tells you very little (read: almost nothing), about what's really going on with the player, the coaching staff, or the team as a whole. Plus, when the preseason begins for football, the baseball season is just starting to heat up for the good stuff. 
This year, though, I have to admit to being more interested in what our St. Louis Rams are doing than usual. Part of it is a new coaching staff I actually believe in. Part of it is I just miss seeing actual, good football played here in St. Louis. Most of it, though, is the fact the Rams are finally beginning to build a group of players I think have a chance to win. 

Which is why I'm very interested to see what happens at left tackle tonight in the Rams' game against the Atlanta Falcons. 

See, tonight at left tackle, it looks like the Rams are going to be starting Adam Goldberg instead of their most recent first round draft pick, Jason Smith. Alex Barron is currently first on the depth chart at left tackle, but he's dealing with an injury and so will be unavailable for tonight's game. 

At first when I heard Goldberg was starting at left tackle, I wasn't at all happy with the news. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to see Jason Smith start at his likely long term position with the organization in a meaningless preseason game. I understand the Rams' reluctance to stick Smith in the most important position on the offensive line as a starter right away to start the season, but why not give the guy the bulk of the time in a preseason contest, see what you might have? 

The answer, of course, wasn't far away; one has only to look at the Falcon's roster to see the reason the veteran Goldberg is starting over the rookie Smith. The answer's name is John Abraham
Yes, I know the Rams' cheerleaders don't really belong here. Trust me, though, they're much more fun to look at than either Jason Smith or John Abraham.
See, John Abraham - who I am currently calling The Beast of the Southeast, hoping it catches on - is the Falcons' right defensive tackle. As such, he's the man whoever starts at left tackle for the Rams will have to try and slow down. The problem, of course, is slowing John Abraham down is much easier said than done. Abraham had 17 sacks last year, to go along with 38 overall tackles and 4 forced fumbles. The man is an absolute monster. 

Still, I thought, that would be a great opportunity, to put the kid up against one of the best in the league. Let him get a taste of the big time, you know? And if Abraham kicks his ass a couple times, maybe that'll really light a fire in the kid's belly, show him just how far he still has to go if he wants to be one of the true elites in the game. 

The problem with that, of course, then hit me. And the problem has nothing to do with Jason Smith. It wouldn't hurt his confidence to get beaten, I'm sure, nor would it really hurt him to get a taste of just how strong and how fast players are at this level. No, the problem really has nothing to do with Smith. The problem is what starting Smith at left tackle means for Mark Bulger

See, the Rams' quarterback has spent an awful lot of time the past few years lying on his back. He's had injuries. He's had concussions. He's had surgeries. And to be honest, all of those poundings Bulger has taken seem to have had an adverse effect on his play. Some QBs get trigger happy when they get knocked around too much. Bulger seems to have gone the opposite way, to the point he freezes up and just holds the ball way, way too long. 

So the problem with starting Jason Smith at left tackle isn't to try and protect him from anything bad happening. It's the fact Mark Bulger probably can't take too many times of being mugged from behind by a defensive end coming free before he's just done entirely. I know I for one don't particularly relish the thought of seeing Bulger get driven into the turf throwing shoulder first any more than necessary. 

Unfortunately, as much as I would really like to see Jason Smith start tonight at left tackle and wrap up against one of the very best pass rushers he's likely to see, the Rams probably just can't take the chance of him struggling. Because if he does, he won't be the one who pays the price.