Rams, Chargers trying to find right mix on offensive line
When Orlando Franklin was released in May, the Chargers offensive line didn’t just lose its most veteran member. It lost something arguably just as crucial to the undefinable, yet indisputably important chemistry of an offensive line.
The Chargers linemen lost their grill master.
Nothing about offensive-line chemistry is scientific. For how often coaches talk about it or commentators reference it, chemistry up front remains mysterious and ever-changing.
“It’s really hard to quantify,” says Chargers left tackle Russell Okung. “It’s not like there are metrics.”
But when searching for common ground among comically large and constantly hungry men, a barbecue is a pretty good place to start.
Franklin was the choice host for linemen barbecues in San Diego. His backyard in Poway, north of downtown, was a grilling oasis, with its own “barbecue island,” not to mention a pool, a firepit and a giant table perfect for large men to bond over smoky, grilled meat.
But now Franklin and his barbecue island are gone, along with two other starters, King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker, and the Chargers find themselves starting from scratch to conjure chemistry up front. They’re not alone in that endeavor.
The Rams opened camp this season breaking in two new starters, while switching the positions of two others. Only one starting lineman, Rodger Saffold, is in the same spot he occupied last season.
For both lines, an overhaul was certainly in order. Last year, the Rams and Chargers each ranked among the worst teams in the NFL up front, thanks to an unfortunate mix of injuries and incompetence. But while moves were made to bolster the lines, rebuilding up front isn’t as simple as plugging in high-priced free agents. It takes nuance, trust, and a whole lot of repetition. Even then, things don’t always click.
“In the majority of sports, everyone is doing their own assignment,” says Matt Slauson, one of the Chargers’ two returning starters up front. “But on the O-line, you have five guys who have to move together as one. It takes time to build that.”
For years under former coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams strategy was to build chemistry through continuity up front, allowing young linemen to blossom into their positions. With Fisher’s firing, that formula was rightfully abandoned this offseason.
Instead, the Rams signed a new center and a new left tackle. With new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in the fold as well, Kromer says his most important job is just figuring out how to “make all the pieces fit.”