Smith, Saffold form a bond on offensive line ..
BY JIM THOMAS • Sunday, November 14,
A couple of games into the regular season, young Rams offensive tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold came up with their own little handshake.
"We call it 'lock it down,'" Saffold said. "We actually put our hands together and twist 'em. Lock it down, meaning that we're going to hold down both sides (of the line)."
Saffold was more than happy to demonstrate the handshake to reporters the other day in the locker room at Rams Park. It's basically a fist pound — with a few extras.
But wait, there's more. They also have a self-imposed nickname.
"Stud & Bud," Smith said with a measure of pride. "He's Stud, I'm Bud. You like that? We came up with it."
For Smith, the "Bud" nickname at least has history — some people at Smith's church back home in Texas call him that. As for "Stud," apparently that's a reference to Saffold's prowess at left tackle.
Stud & Bud. What do you think, Steven Jackson?
"Oh, don't," Jackson said, shaking his head in exasperation. "Please. I'm not calling them that. They're rookies. Jason's still a rookie, too."
(Or almost a rookie, after missing eight games last season due to a knee injury and a concussion.)
So you've got the "lock it down" handshake. The "Stud & Bud" nickname. Anything else? Saffold offered one more thought in describing the bond between himself, Smith and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford.
"It's almost like a love triangle," Saffold said, as serious as could be. "You go from left tackle (Saffold) to right tackle (Smith) to Sam. So as long as we stay together, we're going to be just fine."
It may all sound goofy,but then again, despite their adult responsibilities protecting the flanks for Bradford, Saffold and Smith are practically kids. Saffold, a rookie from Indiana University, is 22. Smith, a second-year man from Baylor, is 24.
So chalk it up to youthful exuberance. They certainly have put a lot of youthful energy into their jobs as the Rams' bookend tackles.
Better than expected
What was expected to be one of the key story lines of the season — can Saffold and Smith get it done at tackle — has been a non-issue midway through the season. Offensive linemen usually get noticed only when they give up a sack or get called for a penalty. Under those guidelines, Saffold and Smith have been barely noticed.
"It's like the engine of a car," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "As long as it runs right, everybody's happy. But when things start to break down a little bit, that's when you notice it."
Zero in on Saffold during a game, and his footwork and athleticism are easy to spot in pass protection. He has had moments of excellence as a run blocker as well. Saffold is what scouts and coaches call a "knee bender" — he can get low in his stance and fire out into a defender with leverage and good pop. He keeps his feet moving on blocks, which makes it tougher for defenders to disengage.
"Rodger Saffold has done an excellent job to jump in at left tackle and perform as he has," offensive line coach Steve Loney said.
There have been times when Saffold's game has hit what Loney calls "a little bit of a lull. But he's very competitive, a very physical guy. So I've been pleased with him."
In evaluating prospects before last April's draft, Loney could see the athleticism, the quick feet and the physical nature of Saffold's game. But you never really know for sure until the games begin.
"You hope you've made a correct assessment, and made an educated decision," Loney said. "But you don't know about their maturity. You don't know about when they do hit a lull — do they fight (through it)? There's a lot of intangibles."
And Saffold, Loney adds, "has maybe exceeded my expectations that way."
As for Smith, he doesn't move as fluidly as Saffold and doesn't consistently get as low in his stance. Occasionally, Smith has a technique breakdown and gets caught off balance, which can lead to a minus play. But he plays with good effort, has been an effective run blocker for the most part, and has held his own as a pass blocker. He generally gets more help from tight ends or running backs than Saffold.
"This isn't a negative, but he's a continual work in progress," Loney said of Smith. "I think the more he plays the better he is because he can experience and see when a guy does something different to him that he hasn't seen — that next time he's better at it.
"He's a tremendous worker. He wants to be good. So from that standpoint, because of the work ethic and how he cares about his job, he will continue to improve."
The Rams have yielded 17 sacks, a comparable total to last season when they allowed 16 sacks through eight games. Only seven of those 17 have been a result of offensive linemen breaking down, according to Loney.
On a few occasions, Bradford has scrambled out of bounds without getting hit. Those plays count as sacks when the scramble results in zero yardage or negative yards. A couple of sacks have resulted from breakdowns by running backs in blitz pickup.
And there have been times, such as a maddening red zone series against San Diego, when Bradford simply held onto the ball too long trying to make a play.
Unofficially, there have been only two sacks where Smith appeared to be responsible — one against Detroit and one against Oakland. Saffold got beaten around the edge against Tampa Bay on a play that resulted in a lost fumble by Bradford.
Whether it's a good play or a bad one, the relationship between Smith and Saffold is such that they can critique each other freely.
"Usually, if you see a veteran do something wrong, you're not going to be like, 'Hey man, you should probably get your feet right,' " Saffold said. "With us, it's cool because we can tell each other what's going wrong."
Because for Stud & Bud, it's all about keeping it on lock down.
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