One by one, each child climbed aboard, and Andrew Whitworth kept walking.
Coaches and staff members turned to watch as Whitworth, a 6-foot-7, 333-pound behemoth of a man, carried his four young kids across the field at UC Irvine after a two-hour practice.
The Rams’ new left tackle never broke stride.
Whitworth is an imposing figure with a massive athletic frame and a large bald head. It’s easy to see how his kids play on him like a jungle gym … and why friends make a habit of walking behind him to watch curious onlookers stare.
The Rams made Whitworth, 35, a top priority in free agency and signed the three-time Pro Bowl selection to a three-year, $36-million contract, with $15-million guaranteed.
“He’s been exactly what we thought and more,” coach Sean McVay said after a week of training camp, adding, “He’s playing at an extremely high level.”
Whitworth, a 12-year pro, has the experience to protect quarterback Jared Goff, the top pick in the 2016 draft.
Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said Whitworth was “like a coach on the field” and provided a steady presence.
“At the right time he will say something in the huddle to keep us going or to calm us down,” Kromer said. “He’s really good for all the youth on the offense.”
Offensive lineman Jamon Brown, a third-year pro, agreed.
“Since he’s gotten here and stepped in he’s been a huge help to kind of the development for all the young guys like myself,” Brown said.
Last season, the Rams’ offensive line struggled as the team stumbled to a 4-12 finish. Goff played under duress throughout most of his seven starts, and running back Todd Gurley was often hit in the backfield.
A new venture, Whitworth said, was what attracted him to the Rams after protecting quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton and making six playoff appearances in 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“The opportunity to really do something that I thought was a challenge and to do something that I thought I could look back on my career and say, ‘You know what, I’m glad I accepted that challenge and I didn’t just take the easy route,’” Whitworth said, “To me it was that opportunity that really was intriguing.”
Whitworth joined a group that included Brown, third-year pro Rob Havenstein and seven-year veteran Rodger Saffold, and other young players. The Rams also signed veteran center John Sullivan, who played for McVay with the Washington Redskins last season.
Kromer, the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line coach the last two seasons, said the addition of Whitworth and Sullivan would help the line improve.
“Our biggest thing is how can we get five guys to play as a group,” Kromer said.
Last Saturday, in a no-tackling practice with the Chargers at StubHub Center, Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram got to Goff twice and defensive end Joey Bosa stripped the ball out of the Rams quarterback’s ’s hands.
Gurley ran with relative ease.
The workout was an opportunity to “test some of our rules up front,” said McVay, who altered the lineup the next day.
During the offseason, coaches had moved Havenstein, a two-year starter at right tackle, to right guard. Brown moved from guard to tackle and then beat out Greg Robinson, who was traded to Detroit.
But after the workout with the Chargers, Havenstein returned to tackle, Brown to guard.
“We’re trying to just figure out what the best spot is for them,” McVay said.
Saffold, who has played every position on the line except center, is expected to stay at left guard, where he started 15 games last season.
Kromer said it would take several weeks to determine the lineup.
For Whitworth, it could take several more to answer the question of whether the offensive line has what it takes to be successful.
“When will you know if the chemistry is working?” a reporter asked.
“I’ve pondered that question for the last 12 years,” he said. “The reality is I don’t think you ever know.
“A lot of camps where we finished and I said, ‘You know what, we’re going to be really good,’ have been some of the worst years, and some of the years that I’m like, ‘Man we’ve got a ways to go,’ have been some of the best.’”