Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coaching staff rundown: offensive line coach Paul Boudreau

Paul Boudreau is expected to return to the Rams for the 2012 season after a successful stop here in 2006-07 that saw him inexplicably replaced by Scott Linehan crony Steve Loney. Boudreau has had a 25-year career as an NFL offensive line coach, with stops in New Orleans, Detroit, New England, Carolina, Jacksonville and Atlanta.

From 1987-1993 with the Saints, Boudreau's offensive line finished in the top three in fewest sacks allowed four times, leading the league in 1992 with just 15 sacks allowed. Saint linemen made two Pro Bowls in that span: guard Brad Edelman in '87 and center Joel Hilgenberg in '92. LT/LG Jim Dombrowski and RT Stan Brock were mainstays on those lines. The Saints were 3rd in the league in rushing in 1997 but had declined to 17th by the time Boudreau left for Detroit.

Barry Sanders ran for 1,500 yards or more all three years Boudreau coached the Lion o-line. LT Lomas Brown went to the Pro Bowl in '94 and '95. Center Kevin Glover joined him in '95, his first Pro Bowl after 11 seasons in the league. The Lions were a top-ten line for fewest sacks allowed until dropping to 25th in '96, with Brown having left for the Big Dead.

Bruce Armstrong made the Pro Bowl for the sixth and final time in 1997, the first of Boudreau's two seasons under Pete Carroll in New England. The Patriots allowed the 4th-fewest sacks in the league in '97 but were a bottom-of-the-league rushing offense both seasons.

Boudreau knows centers. Tim Ruddy made his only Pro Bowl while Boudreau was with the Dolphins in 2000. The Dolphins were also 5th-best in 2000 in sacks allowed, with 28. And that was with Jay Fiedler at QB – Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season, Boudreau's first year there. That line also had Richmond Webb at LT. Those Dolphins teams also did not run especially well.

Boudreau's next two years in Carolina were forgettable, especially the 1-15 team of 2001. The Panthers did not run particularly well, and declined from 32 sacks in '01 to 44 in '02, unable to get the right side of the line settled.

In three years in Jacksonville, the Jagwires finished in the top 10 in sacks allowed twice, and the most they gave up was 32. Boudreau went through several left tackles, but Vince Manuwai, Brad Meester, Chris Naeole and Maurice Williams cleared the way for top-ten running games in '03 and '05.

Which brings Boudreau to St. Louis for the first time, and Steven Jackson's best season on the ground, 1,528 yards in 2006. Those Rams gave up a ton of sacks, though – 49 in '06, 48 in '07, near the bottom of the league both years. Those lines had a ton of injuries, though, the tail ends of the careers of Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman. The '07 team got shell-shocked by losing Pace the first game of the season and never really got on track, leading to an extended beating that pretty much ended Marc Bulger's run in St. Louis as well. Boudreau got very nice results down the stretch in '06 with spare parts like Mark Setterstrom, Brett Romberg and Todd Steussie, and the '07 offensive line was kind of like last year's secondary injury-wise. Though Bulger got battered and Boudreau couldn't coax disciplined play out of Alex Barron or Richie Incognito, fans were caught well off-guard when the Rams fired Boudreau and were confident he'd pick right up where he left off in Atlanta.

Which he did. With two players acquired as rookie free agents on the right side of the line, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo, the Falcons became one of the best offensive lines in the league. Clabo made the Pro Bowl in 2010. Atlanta allowed only 17 sacks in 2008 (5th in NFL). They were 3rd-best in the league in 2010 (23 sacks). They finished in the top 10 all four years Boudreau was there. They were also the #2 rushing team in the NFL in '08, but have dropped to the middle of the pack since.

A criticism of Boudreau is that his linemen play dirty. Atlanta's line gained a reputation for cut-blocking downfield and hitting after the whistle. Justin Tuck went so far as to call Atlanta's offensive line "dirtbags" in the days leading up this year's playoff game. The Packers and Lions also complained this season about dirty play by the Atlanta line.

With the Falcons unable to adequately replace Dahl or injured LT Sam Baker in 2011, and with notable humiliations on 4th-and-shorts in the playoffs against the Giants, Boudreau paid the price in the offseason, freeing him up to come back here. Most of Rams Nation is happy with this development, though after Steve Loney, we'd probably have been happy with a Sherpa yak tender. I doubt that Boudreau has the magic to salvage Jason Smith, but he's got a record of polishing castoffs and overlooked players into gems. He's got a solid record coaching up centers, where the Rams honestly have a gaping hole at the moment. And he's developed cohesive, successful lines in New Orleans, Jacksonville and Atlanta, without those teams having to make big splashes for “name” players. Sam Bradford and a nation of Rams fans need your best work, coach. Make it happen. B-plus


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