An epidemic of attitude has struck the Rams’ offensive line. And it’s no coincidence that this plague has arrived in concert with the arrival of the team’s new right guard.
Known for his physical, nasty demeanor on the football field,
“It’s very infectious,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, a big grin creeping across his face. “He has been a tremendous addition for our room, the offensive line – his toughness, his attitude. The guy’s just a man’s man and he been nothing but what we hoped we were getting when we signed him. He has really made a big impact there. He’s a strong leader on offense and has been a great influence on some of the younger linemen and we are really pleased to have him in there.”
In adding Dahl to a group that combined played together for all but one game in 2010, the Rams hoped to get someone who could bring an imposing player whose disposition would represent a positive influence on his teammates.
With a second-year player at left tackle in
“It’s contagious,” Smith said. “You see one guy hit somebody and you say ‘Oh, that’s OK?’ Then you do it and you don’t get flagged for it because it’s legal. It’s like a horse. Once one takes off running, the other takes off running. Everybody wants to be that guy but they brought in a guy that does it so it just gets everybody around him doing it.”
At a chiseled 6’5, 305 pounds, Dahl cuts a menacing presence that is hard to ignore. Upon meeting him, though, he seems like a perfectly affable fellow, the kind of guy you could have a leisurely chat with about any number of topics.
But when Dahl steps on the field, the switch goes on and he becomes the type of player opponents loathe and teammates love.
It’s why he earned the designation as one of the league’s eight “dirtiest” players in a poll taken by Sports Illustrated and why one writer from a prominent national website dubbed Dahl the NFL’s meanest player.
Dahl disagrees with the dirty designation but has no issues with the mean moniker.
After all, to understand how Dahl became one of the league’s most highly regarded interior linemen, you first have to understand where his hard-driving, blue collar, old school approach to the game originated.
To some, the idea of attitude is ingrained at a young age. It’s something inherent rather than learned. Dahl’s ascension from NFL also ran to a player who was one of the most-sought after on this year’s free-agent market can be directly correlated to an adjustment he made early in his NFL journey.
“I just think that I had to go through the ringer to get to become even a starter in this league,” Dahl said. “I think that’s just something I had to prove. I think that’s the way I had to play to get on the field. I think that’s the way the game should be played is physical and through the whistle so I try to do that on every play.”
Dahl played his college football at the University of Nevada-Reno, where he was first team All Western Athletic Conference in his final two seasons. Despite his college production, it wasn’t enough to land him a spot in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Following the draft, Dahl quickly signed with Dallas but never even made it out of OTAs as the Cowboys released him in early June. Dahl was claimed by San Francisco, where he went for training camp but was again released in the final round of cuts.
The Niners threw Dahl a small lifeline, though, signing him to the practice squad and placed on the active roster for the final few weeks of the 2005 season. When that year was done, they opted to send Dahl to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.
The overseas experience taught Dahl plenty about not only football but the sacrifice it takes to make it.
“I never looked too far ahead,” Dahl said. “I just kind of took it a day at a time. That’s all you can really do in this league. You can’t look too far ahead and if you want to make it you just have to stay focused and take it day by day and not get ahead of yourself.”
Dahl kept that in mind during the 2006 season as he wallowed on San Francisco’s practice squad for the majority season. While Dahl appeared in four games for the Niners, his first real opportunity didn’t come until Atlanta signed him off San Francisco’s practice squad on Oct. 9, 2007.
In search of a replacement for the injured Wayne Gandy, the Falcons gave Dahl a shot on their active roster but he appeared in just one game.
Finally, in 2008, Dahl got the chance to win the starting job at guard for Atlanta. In taking over, he made an immediate impact as the Falcons finished second in the league and allowed a franchise-record low 17 sacks.
Instead of fighting for his livelihood, Dahl was able to channel his newfound mean streak into a starting role that made him an integral part of one of the league’s best offensive lines in the past three seasons.
“I think it was just building in me,” Dahl said. “Offensive line is challenging for young players right out of college. There is a lot mentally and a lot of technique and it just took me a while to kind of grasp all that and really understand what was expected of the position. Once I did everything kind of came together for me and it all worked out.”
After a long wait, the free agent market finally opened at the end of July. While Rams running back
So the Rams went searching for a road grader for the interior of the line capable of plowing big holes for Jackson and the other running backs all while keeping quarterback
The Rams moved swiftly as soon as free agency began and before the end of the first official day the market was open, they had their man.
“That’s huge, that’s one of our more…I think in my opinion the best pickup,” Jackson said. “The right guard is a position that is…you lean heavy on especially in the run game. He’s been good. I’ve had the chance to see him play live and in person for a couple years now when we played the Atlanta Falcons. He’s a guy you hate to go against but when he’s on your team you feel really good about it. He’s going to bring that edge to the offensive line that each and every team wants.”
For Dahl’s part, becoming the coveted free agent represented how hard he’s worked in his NFL career to go from practice squadder to NFL Europe to a team’s top priority on the open market.
In the Rams, he saw the opportunity to be a part of a team that is on the verge of great things, similar to what he saw in his early years in Atlanta.
“We played them last year when I was in Atlanta and I could just tell the way they were playing and the energy and talking to the front office guys and coaches, I could tell it was something I want to be a part of,” Dahl said. “I could tell there was positive energy here and that they are definitely going to play with a chip on their shoulder and I wanted to be part of it.”
Dahl has plugged in immediately at right guard and his play hard through the whistle attitude and nasty disposition has already begun rubbing off on his teammates.
Although there have been no major fracases, Dahl has been involved in a few of the minor fisticuffs that have taken place so far in camp.
And Dahl’s linemates have taken immediate notice of how to play hard and be nasty without crossing the line.
“They say one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch but in this case, one mean and nastier apple I feel is going to make the whole deal nastier,” Smith said. “That’s what we want. We want a mean, tough, nasty offensive line that can be productive, stay sound, stay focused, be productive in the run game, protect our quarterback, just make it work for us.”
In the process, Dahl is keeping his focus on adjusting to an offense different from the one he was a part of in Atlanta as well as helping inject his own brand of energy into the group.
The fire that burns inside Dahl, the one that helped carry him to NFL success still burns as hot as it ever did. Just because he’s made it in the league doesn’t mean he’s not aware that if he wants to continue making it, he can’t stop to look back at what he’s done to get here.
“I think it’s the same thing,” Dahl said. “If you look too far ahead or analyze the past, just like when you’re building yourself up from the practice squad, you have to keep your nose to the grindstone.”