The NFL’s next great pass rusher can be found across the state from Pass Rush City.
St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn came within a half-sack of leading the NFL last season with 19. And he’s just 24 years old.
Quinn could get a jump in the sack race this year because Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, who led the league with 19 1/2 last year, will be serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Quinn will have plenty of competition from Carolina’s Greg Hardy, who had 15 sacks last year, and former NFL sack leader J.J. Watt, who led the league with 20 1/2 in 2012 but fell off to 10 1/2 last year. And don’t forget that Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, who had 11 sacks before missing the last five games in 2013, is in a contract year.
Quinn, a first-round pick from North Carolina in 2011, is confident he can reach 20 sacks this season and even threaten the NFL record of 22 1/2 set by Michael Strahan in 2001.
“I’m sure any D-lineman or anybody going for sacks wants to take down that record,” Quinn told reporters, “but you have to go one sack at a time.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher expects even bigger things from Quinn as he gains experience.
“Pass rushing is an art, and you can get better at it,” Fisher said. “You can anticipate, you can get better with counter moves, get better on each opponent. He’s taking a lot of time, studying, and I think he knows how to approach each opponent week in and week out; he understands the system very well. One would think he’d probably have better numbers than he did last year.”
The hiring of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, known for his aggressive defenses at New Orleans, could make Quinn even more dangerous as a pass rusher.
“His philosophy is to defend every blade of grass,” Quinn said. “That’s how detailed he wants to be about everything. We’ve got a whole bunch of great guys that can put up numbers on any given day. It’s going to be hard just to focus on one guy, so if teams decide to focus on me, you can name any guy on our defense, really.”
2013 NFL sack leaders
Robert Mathis, Colts
Robert Quinn, Rams
Greg Hardy, Panthers
Mario Williams, Bills
Cameron Jordan, Saints