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Quinn Catching Up

Posted Nov 2, 2011

Of all the awards Robert Quinn dreamed he might earn in his rookie season with the Rams, one for special teams play was probably somewhere near the bottom of the list.

When Quinn was tapped as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his blocked punt that turned the Oct. 30 game against the Saints in the Rams’ favor, he had no qualms with adding it to what he hopes is an ever-expanding list of accomplishments. 

“I will definitely take it,” Quinn said, laughing. “Things like that are hard to come by. It’s a great honor when you do get recognized for whatever it may be. I will definitely add it to my resume and hopefully I’ll have more coming my way.”

Considering where Quinn is coming from, his ascent from raw rookie oozing potential to major contributor on game day just seven games into his initial NFL season is all the more impressive.

After missing an entire year of football, Quinn was drafted 14th overall by the Rams in April’s Draft. Then, the lockout kept him from getting back up to speed before training camp. Then, training camp was condensed because of the lockout and Quinn was even further behind the eight ball because of a knee injury.

Before he ever stepped on a NFL field, Quinn has already faced a career’s worth of adversity.

“Coming here, I definitely went through a lot of trials and tribulations and I was just trying to get my feet back wet and, like I tell my buddies back at school the only thing different from my freshman and sophomore year, it’s confidence,” Quinn said. “And now I definitely feel a lot more confident and comfortable with myself. I guess they see it is starting to show and hopefully I won’t disappoint them.”

Quinn’s performance against the Saints could become the turning point in which he went from green rookie to legitimate down to down contributor. He posted two tackles, two quarterback hits, a sack and a blocked punt in that contest.

Considering that he had no time to learn the system and was reconciling that with trying to get the physical part of a game he hadn’t played in an organized setting for more than a year, Quinn found his brain trying to keep up with his body and vice versa.

It made for some rough patches early in the season and left him inactive in the season opener against Philadelphia.

“I think he’s on a good learning curve,” defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “I’m not disappointed. He’s done a nice job for us. (Defensive Line Coach) Brendan’s (Daly) done a nice job of bringing him along. Every week I think he gets better and better.”
With veterans James Hall and Chris Long in front of him on the depth chart, Quinn has worked in a rotation at end behind that duo. But it’s been hard for him to find opportunities to get after the quarterback because the Rams have trailed so often and had trouble stopping the run.
Without obvious passing situations in which he can get after the signal caller, Quinn has had to find alternative ways to make a difference.
Against New Orleans, that meant stepping in for an injured Danario Alexander and blocking a punt.
That punt block came on the heels of Quinn’s second career sack in which he beat tackle Jermon Bushrod on an inside move and dropped quarterback Drew Brees for a loss.
“Robert has a lot of natural ability,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “He’s got a great attitude. He’s very humble. He’s quiet and just learns. He’s a respectful guy and it’s got to be hard not playing for a full year and coming to the NFL. But he’s starting to catch on a little bit. I think he’s going to continue to get better. He works extremely hard at it. Hopefully it gives him a little confidence and a little assurance to say ‘Hey, I can make plays in the NFL.’ Hopefully he runs with it and just uses it as motivation to get better each and every day. Every day you are getting better or you are getting worse. You never stay the same so hopefully he has that mentality of this is what I can do. Maybe he has higher expectations for himself now and he continues to set goals and push himself.”

Indeed, Quinn has no intention of stopping now. Long has maintained since Quinn arrived in St. Louis that the 6’4, 264-pound rookie has as more natural pass rush ability than any of his teammates.

The key for Quinn, according to Long, has been to harness that ability and not get frustrated when he comes up a half second short of a sack like he has on multiple occasions this year.

“I think he’s realized it all year,” Long said. “He’s had some nice rushes throughout the year, everybody sees the sack and thinks ‘oh he’s coming along’ but he’s been rushing well all year and he just needs to keep at it. I think he’s starting to realize you can beat people all year but it is hard to finish and get those sacks. That’s why those numbers are really hard to pile up. He just needs to keep his nose to the grindstone and just keep working.”

For his part, Quinn believes he’s starting to settle in and feel comfortable. With each week and each big play he makes, he gains confidence that he can go out and be more than part of the rotation at defensive end.

Now that Quinn believes he has got a better handle on the big picture things, he’s turning his attention to being better about noticing the small details that can help close the gap on that half second difference between a sack and a pressure.

That means picking the brains of the veterans ahead of him and looking for cues like a tackle patting his hip or turning his foot a certain way that might be a tell for which way the protection will slide.

“When I first got here, it was definitely getting my legs back under me and at the same time learning the scheme,” Quinn said. “So I had both of those difficulties at the same time. Now it’s just putting the pieces together and me going out and executing them. I am focusing on the small details of things instead of just the bigger picture because sometimes the smaller things in our scheme are what matters most. It’s just fine tuning now.”

Slowly but surely Quinn is picking up on those nuances and applying them to his game.

“He has progressed as a defensive end,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He’s in there playing more. I said it this morning; you’re talking about a guy who didn’t play any football last year, no offseason, etcetera, etcetera. So he’s on a gradual uphill (curve) and he’s doing a good job.”

As he’s just scratching the surface on his immense potential and raw physical ability, Quinn’s progression figures to be something to watch for the Rams in the second half of the season.

Game changing plays like the ones he made against New Orleans might not come every week but opponent now must at least be aware of him when he’s on the field.
 
“I think I am OK right now but I definitely want to improve a lot more,” Quinn said. “However many plays I get out there on the field, hopefully I can perform to the best of my abilities. Maybe I can make a play here or there or a sack or two or whatever the case may be, just keep trying to get better and be a professional out there.”