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Saffold, like Bradford, is a most important rookie
JEFF GORDON | Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2010 11:01 am
All eyes will focus on quarterback Sam Bradford Saturday as he makes his preseason debut for the Rams.
The new Face of the Franchise will get his first live-action test, albeit with a limited preseason play list operating against a typically vanilla preseason defensive scheme.
But an equally important rookie debut will occur on the offensive line, where fast-developing tackle Rodger Saffold hopes to further his education.
Quarterbacks can’t flourish without reliable pass blocking. In fact, quarterbacks can’t even survive without consistently strong protection. Bradford learned this the hard way at the University of Oklahoma while suffering serious shoulder injuries.
Earlier this summer, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney scoffed at all the NFL teams starting rookies at offensive tackle this season.
“I'm licking my chops,” Freeney told the Los Angeles Times. “When you have a rookie offensive tackle, I can't wait. Because for an offensive tackle, you're not good until you're in like your eighth year.
“You've got to get beat up for a while to learn what to do and what not to. It's when you're about in your fifth through 10th years as an offensive tackle that you're in your prime. All these rookies coming out? They don't know anything. I can't wait.”
Saffold comprehends the magnitude of his challenge.
“The passing game is very, very difficult,” he said. “When you are backing up and they are coming at your full bore, you really have to have good technique.”
Playing left tackle in the NFL is especially hard. The left tackle’s job to protect the quarterback’s blind side against the rush on passing downs. It is one of the toughest jobs in profession sports.
Michael Lewis covered this topic in his book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.” One of the stars of the book (and the movie based on the book) was former University of Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher.
It’s notable that Oher primarily played right tackle last season for the Baltimore Ravens. Now that he has some seasoning, he is moving to the left side.
The Rams are affording Saffold no such luxury. He opened training camp at left tackle and his coaches hope he plays well enough to keep that job.
“It’s improving,” Safford said. “(Offensive line) coach Steve Loney is working with me over and over. I’m continuing to learn more and more techniques and little tips that will help me.”
Last year the Rams drafted Jason Smith second overall and projected him to become the long-term left tackle. But his adjustment to the pro game took a while, then he suffered a serious concussion just as he was mastering right tackle.
Smith seemed likely to switch to the left side for this season, but then a foot injury derailed his development during the offseason. So now he is working himself back into the mix on the right side, where he can exploit his excellent run-blocking skills.
The Rams shipped last year’s left tackle, Alex Barron, to the Cowboys during the offseason. He was a durable player for the Rams, but generally an underachiever. He lacked competitive fire and was prone to illegal motion penalties.
Veteran Adam Goldberg did a solid job filling in at right tackle last season, but he is projected to play right guard this season. Of course, he is filling in at left guard in the meantime, while veteran Jacob Bell works to regain his health.
The Rams lack quality depth behind Saffold and Smith, unless you count the versatile Goldberg. So their progress is critical to this Rams team.
It appears Saffold is coming along nicely. The second-round draft pick from Indiana looks like a natural pass blocker. The Rams regarded him as a first-round talent during draft and that assessment has held up.
“My best asset is just my athleticism,” he said. “ I have real good feet.”
But . . .
“Even though it helps me out of situations, you want to be under control at the same time,” he said.
Saffold is benefiting from his training camp skirmishes with the Rams defensive ends, especially right-side starter James Hall.
“The big thing is the knowledge of the veterans,” he said. “They know so many different tips and techniques. They can get really get you thinking. They try to get you going one way, then they go the other way. You have to react to their movement and get yourself in the best position possible.
“You have to slow the game down yourself because you have to be able to go off their movements. And sometimes you have to use your own tactics to control the blocks.”
Starting with the preseason opener, Safford’s education will start for real. Opponents will be trying to school him, but not in a nurturing way.
A good left tackle can solidify an offense and a bad one can doom it. How Saffold fares will say a lot about how competitive the Rams will be this season
Re: Saffold, like Bradford, is a most important rookie
I CANNOT WAAAAIIIIITTTT to see how he plays, just as anxious as this preseason game against the Vikes this weekend and equally as anxious to see him as I am any other player. I know it will be tough in his first year, especially how he has not done what most OL do; come in at the RT the first year and move to LT when things settle down. But my God, please Saffold:
DO NOT STINK UP THAT LEFT SIDE!!!
Re: Saffold, like Bradford, is a most important rookie
He gets to play some time against Jared Allen this saturday, maybe that will help him out a little bit.
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