THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — In one month, rookie Bobby Evans has gone from simulating the Los Angeles Rams’ opponents to running them over as the starting right tackle.
In the same time span, the makeshift offensive line Evans is part of helped the Rams stabilize their season and give them a chance to make the playoffs for the third straight year.
“Honestly, I just feel like life picked up a lot 'cause I went from, you know, being a scout-team backup guy to a starter,” Evans said.
Evans, a third-round draft pick from Oklahoma, has started the past four games after Rob Havenstein sustained a knee injury. Next to him is David Edwards, another rookie. Austin Blythe changed positions and is now the starting center. Left guard Austin Corbett was acquired from Cleveland in a trade on Oct. 15.
The only projected starter still in the lineup is left tackle Andrew Whitworth, but that front five combination has allowed the Rams to get the offense on track.
Since Evans came into the lineup against Chicago in Week 11, Todd Gurley has run off three of his four most productive rushing performances this season. That, in turn, has allowed Jared Goff to find success with play-action passing.
Coach Sean McVay said Evans has been integral to creating holes for Gurley and keeping Goff upright against several top edge defenders, including Khalil Mack for the Bears and Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney.
“I’ve been really impressed with him, you look at some of the players that he’s gone against, the caliber of big-time guys and the way that he’s been able to perform,” McVay said. “He’s got great play energy. If you watch him, the excitement, the way that he helps his teammates up, finishes blocks, gets excited when guys score. He’s got a nice enthusiasm about himself that you get excited about. I’ve been very pleased with Bobby.”
Whether Evans’ play has been strong enough to usurp the starting job from Havenstein is a matter McVay and his coaching staff have tried to deflect.
“I feel good about the fact that we can execute our offense at a high level however that game day right tackle spot plays out,” passing game coordinator Shane Waldron said.
Havenstein is in the first season of a four-year, $32.5 million dollar contract extension he signed in August 2018, a deal he earned with steady play in McVay’s first two seasons.
But the response to the first real adversity during McVay’s time in Los Angeles, a downturn which also coincided with the spate of injuries that forced the offensive line to be reshuffled, might have rendered past performance and future earnings secondary to how the Rams are playing now as they try to chase down Minnesota for the second wild-card in the NFC.
The Rams seem inclined to stick with what is working. Havenstein was a full participant in practice Thursday, but it was Evans working alongside the other starters during positional drills.
Still, what could be a complicated decision right now might bode well for the future of the Rams up front, with Whitworth in the final season of a three-year contract. If Whitworth decides not to play a 15th season or the Rams decide to move on from the dependable Louisiana native who has played all but 10 offensive snaps this season, Evans and Havenstein would be the obvious choices to start in some combination at left and right tackle.
Evans played both positions in college for the Sooners and believes he can highlight different parts of his game depending on where he lines up.
“I would say I feel smoother pass setting at left, but I feel stronger on the right, you know what I’m saying?,” Evans said.
Left or right is something to be resolved later for Evans. Right now, he is focused on being ready to play against Dallas on Sunday if needed.
Blythe said Evans' attitude reflects why he has been able to adapt so well to the NFL.
“He’s just been a professional," Blythe said. “He’s done what the coaches asked.”
NOTES: TE Gerald Everett was sent home Thursday because of a stomach virus, McVay said. Everett has missed the past two games because of a knee injury.