The Rams coaching staff wanted to send a shock wave through their team, and no better place to start than the middle of it all, I suppose. Center Jason Brown has been benched, held up as an example for an offensive line that has underperformed as a whole.
You could, if you wanted, justify this move on performance reasons. Brown had hardly lived up to his free agent spoils, when he was billed as the "prize free agent blocker of 2009" and paid as the best center in the league. We ripped him frequently on this site, particularly last year when the entire middle of the line simply collapsed. But Brown was much improved this year, and he was far from the line's worst performer, giving up only 2 sacks and 2 hits on Bradford for the season. (If you wanted to bench the guy who has been playing the worst, look two positions to Brown's left. Rodger Saffold leads all offensive linemen in penalties (10) and sacks allowed (11).)
Brendan Wiese (@bwiese16) of KFNS, who originally broke the story on Twitter yesterday afternoon, also spoke directly with Brown on his benching. According to Brown, the team told him "We're trying to make changes." But Brown adds: "As far as giving me an acceptable or good reason, they actually couldn't give me a good reason, other than that they wanted to test out some of the other guys."
The other guy in this case is former 49er Tony Wragge, who was last employed as a starter (at guard) back in 2008. In limited action since then, Wragge grades out relatively neutrally. At 32, Wragge is 4 years older than Brown, but perhaps his legs are fresher, and perhaps he actually knows how to throw a cut block on a must-have fourth-and-one. But then again, perhaps he's been bench fodder for the last three years for a reason.
Either way, the move is more telling about the mood at Rams park than it is about one individual's play.
When we were discussing the Rams' bizarre decision to try the same play twice in a row on crucial 3rd and 4th and ones (failing both times), Twitter follower Greg Divers had the most succinct comment:
@RamsHerd Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
I fear that a different kind of insanity might be about to take over at Rams park: making change for its own sake, rather than out of any coherent plan.
These are desperate times for Steve Spagnuolo and his coaching staff, particularly offensive line coach Steve Loney. And in those desperate times, there is often a strongly-felt urgency to just ... do something. We saw the same behavior in 2008 after Jim Haslett took over as coach. If a spark is lit and the Rams manage to turn things around, perhaps the coach can point to one of those moves and say "See, this is the reason why."
The move to target Brown in particular has to be quite painful for Billy Devaney as well. Brown was his signature signing in February of 2009, and Jason Smith was his franchise tackle to be in that year's draft. Now with Brown benched and Smith's status in another concussion-imposed limbo, Devaney's legacy hinges almost entirely on Sam Bradford. And he will have to start the rest of his blueprint over from scratch.
Both Spagnuolo and Devaney are likely auditioning for their jobs for Stan Kroenke. (Whether or not they are a package deal is a topic for another day.) And if Kroenke cares about results, neither audition is going well. The Rams' record stinks, their defense has regressed significantly, a flurry of free agent signings produced only three mildly positive contributors (Al Harris, Harvey Dahl, Quintin Mikell), and Sam Bradford is widely perceived as having taken a step backward in his development.
For Brown, this is a humbling move. But for Rams fans, it might be the beginning of a long, messy and change-filled conclusion to the 2011 season.
I suppose it had to start somewhere.