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Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

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  • Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

    Ben Frederickson

    ST. LOUIS -- Rodger Saffold wasn't pleased.

    The position was a part of his identity. In the 47 games the St. Louis Rams had played since 2010, he had started there 35 times. Only injuries had kept No. 76 from his place. He was the Rams' left tackle, a title synonymous with big money and respect. He was the protector of star quarterback Sam Bradford's blind side.

    Until suddenly, without a chance to fight for it, the job was no longer his.

    "I think it was more of a shock than anything," St. Louis Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said. "He had some moments, as we will say in our room."

    When the Rams signed former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long to a four-year, $34 million contract in late March, the team described the acquisition of the elite lineman as a no-brainer. Long was the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, a 6-foot-7, 319-pound mountain of a man who had made four Pro Bowls in five years. The team celebrated while Saffold wrestled with the request he knew would come next.

    His agent had made it clear Saffold was not interested switching positions when the Rams started courting Long. Some wondered if Saffold, entering the last year of his rookie contract with the team, would skip voluntary organized team activities as a sign of protest.

    "I hadn't played right tackle since ninth grade," Saffold explained, after the dust finally settled.

    Boudreau understood Saffold's initial reaction, the 'moments' he would rather leave in the past. He figured his upset tackle would come around, and he was right.

    "Rodger is not that kind of kid," Boudreau said. "He wants to win. He wants to be part of the winning tradition we are going to start here. So, he’s going to make it work.”

    So here was Saffold this offseason, relearning a position his 25-year-old body had not played in a decade. He says he is on board now, and his coaches have praised his selflessness for embracing the switch. His continued willingness to adapt will be influential for the Rams' 2013 season, as well as the rest of Saffold's career.


    Boudreau uses a baseball metaphor.

    Imagine a Major Leaguer changing his swing from left to right. The instincts that make the hitter a pro, his ability to track pitches and send the ball a certain way, are still there. It's the awkwardness of the unfamiliar swing that makes it hard.

    Or, here's one anyone can try.

    "If you're right-handed, start writing left-handed," Boudreau said.

    Boudreau has coached NFL offensive linemen since 1987. He knew Saffold, unlike some left tackles, could make the switch to the right side. He cited the 6-foot-5, 314-pound player's all-around athleticism, hip flexibility, use of leverage and proficiency at run blocking as evidence.

    There is one disadvantage, though. Saffold became a starting left tackle at Indiana University halfway through his freshman season. Then, as an NFL rookie in 2010, he claimed the starting spot for the Rams. He never spent time on the right side -- something required of backup NFL guards and tackles so they can fill any position at a moment's notice.

    “If you are a guy who is a backup guy, Rokevious Watkins or Brandon Washington, you are a swing guy," Boudreau said. "So, you are going to have to work like a switch hitter. You are going to have to work a right-handed stance, a left-handed stance. And you get used to it. In Rodger’s case, he’s always been there. Let’s say he’s been playing football for nine or 10 years of his life. He’s always been that way. Now, all of a sudden, he’s changed. It is a mental thing. And it is a physical thing.”

    The frustratingly slow transition started during organized team activities. There, absent of shoulder pads and contact, Saffold spent three weeks learning how to reverse engineer the technique that made him successful on the left side, and apply it to the right.

    "You've got this muscle memory from going one way," Saffold said toward the end of the sessions. "Now, you're trying to flip it and go the other."

    Time and time again, he got down into his new stance, took a step and punched his arms out like pistons. Constantly, he checked the position of every body part, from his feet to his head. Boudreau sometimes asked Saffold to complete this footwork barefoot so the player could better gauge his weight distribution and balance.

    Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    It's the key to creating new muscle memory.

    “When he gets into a situation where he is more comfortable, then his athleticism, his bend, his flexibility, will come up and come to the top -- just like it did on the left side," Boudreau said.

    Saffold left for summer vacation with an iPad that Larry Clerico, the team's director of video operations, had loaded with clips.

    Some showed Saffold during previous seasons, a left tackle dominating defensive linemen with flawless footwork. Others showed him during organized team activities, a right tackle who often fell out of his stance instead of fired, who backpedaled awkwardly, kicking as if on invisible stilts.

    Comparing the two was supposed to help Saffold convert the latter into the former.


    Jim Hanifan chuckles when he tells his favorite story about a switch.

    "Many, many years ago, I made a big move for an individual," the retired NFL offensive line guru said. "That man was Dan Dierdorf. I moved him from left tackle to right tackle."

    It was 1974, and Hanifan was the offensive line coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Before a practice, while his linemen were loosening up, he noticed his four-time Pro Bowl right tackle, Ernie McMillan, was in a left-handed stance.

    "Why did you get down in that stance?" Hanifan asked.

    "I'm a natural left hander," McMillan answered.

    What transpired was a switch that shifted the 36-year-old McMillan to left tackle, where he played his final two seasons before retirement. But it was Dierdorf, Hanifan's 25-year-old left tackle who moved to the right side in the aftermath, who reaped the reward. Dierdorf made the Pro-Bowl five consecutive times as a right tackle, then added one more trip later in his career. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

    There are others.

    Boudreau cites Willie Roaf, who switched from right tackle to left tackle after his rookie year, and Larry Allen, who played right tackle, right guard and left tackle before settling in at a left guard for his final nine seasons. Both are also members of the Hall of Fame.

    Hanifan offers the following advice for Saffold: Bury any blind-side fascination, and embrace a chance to diversify.

    "If I was sitting here with him right now, I would say, 'Rodger, this is an opportunity for you,'" Hanifan said. "Show the people, not only the Rams, but the National Football League what you are made of. For the good of the team, you're coming over to the right side. Come out here with a bang, not a whimper, and get after it. Prove what kind of player you are."


    A full-contact trial by fire awaits Saffold at the end of this month.

    Chris Long, the Rams' defensive end who has 24.5 sacks in two seasons, will line up in front of Saffold's face when training camp begins. He's proof that quarterback threats thrive on both sides of the defensive line.

    "It doesn’t matter if you get hit by the left guy, or the right," Boudreau said. "Our goal is: Bradford ain’t getting touched after he throws the ball. Dwight Freeney was always a right defensive end. If they found a big, stiff guy at right tackle, Freeney would go over there. They’re going to find the weak link. It’s been that way forever.”

    Saffold says he won't be a weak link. He says he will be ready.

    “It’s unexpected," he said. "But, at the end of the day, you’re happy for it. Because it is more experience, more you can do. It makes you a more-valuable player. Knowing I can play right and left is going to be good for me and my family. So, there’s no problem.”

    He paused, then added:

    "I think I'm really going to be able to play well at this position."

  • #2
    Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

    Saffold says he won't be a weak link. He says he will be ready.

    “It’s unexpected," he said. "But, at the end of the day, you’re happy for it. Because it is more experience, more you can do. It makes you a more-valuable player. Knowing I can play right and left is going to be good for me and my family. So, there’s no problem.”

    He paused, then added:

    "I think I'm really going to be able to play well at this position.
    I'm not sure Saffold is really happy about playing RT, but he's saying and doing all the right things, and has a good attitude about the situation. His ability to stay healthy and be productive will be key.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

      Originally posted by r8rh8rmike View Post
      His ability to stay healthy and be productive will be key.
      His health is going to be the make or break factor. I think one could surmise that Rodger would rather be playing right tackle on a winning team, than left tackle on a losing team. Saffold has experienced plenty of the latter. Hopefully this year will be the transition year where we have more wins than losses. Nothing like winning to elevate a player's mood.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

        “It’s unexpected," he said. "But, at the end of the day, you’re happy for it. Because it is more experience, more you can do. It makes you a more-valuable player. Knowing I can play right and left is going to be good for me and my family. So, there’s no problem.”
        It sounds to me like he's a guy who fully expects to hit free agency next year.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

          Originally posted by Nick View Post
          It sounds to me like he's a guy who fully expects to hit free agency next year.
          Quite possibly, we do have two number one picks again .. High draft picks come much cheaper these days ..

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

            I don't have a problem with RS's attitude or honesty. Fisher took care of his RT in Tenn, to the tune of 6yrs/38.9 mill, 10 guaranteed. Even with the 12 mill unlikely to be earned in the last two years, it's good money.And those numbers will be 5 years old when Demoff and Saffold's agent deal next off season. If he stays healthy and plays up to his talent, Roger's family will be just fine.

            At worst, he's a good back-up for Long whose own injury history is a wee bit too action-packed to be ignored.
            And even if he does well & someone wants to overpay him, perhaps we need to get used to good players leaving in FA. At least, I hope so. When was the last time we got a decent compensatory pick ?

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

              Good story, thanks for the post Maui. I'm certainly glad we're executing this move under Paul Boudreau, who is one of the best OL Coaches in the NFL. Similar to the story with Dierdorf under Hanifan's teaching I think we can make this work well without too many mistakes. As I've said repeatedly, we gotta cut down on the O-Line penalties. I'm hoping this switch won't interfere with that effort.

              Go Rams!

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

                Originally posted by Mde8352gorams View Post
                ...Paul Boudreau, ...one of the best OL Coaches in the NFL. ...Make this work well without too many mistakes. As I've said repeatedly, we gotta cut down on the O-Line penalties. I'm hoping this switch won't interfere with that effort.

                Go Rams!
                Just think about it, fewer OL penalties AND a better Bradford.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

                  Originally posted by Nick View Post
                  It sounds to me like he's a guy who fully expects to hit free agency next year.
                  Sounds that way to me as well, which is to be expected from an emerging talent, looking to get the best deal possible. Hopefully, he has a good year, and the Rams are able to retain him.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

                    I agree with Nick, he expects to test the Free Agency waters next year and its likely that a team like Miami will overpay for him as they are shy one LT courtesy of us. If Jake Long works out as planned, the Rams will likely let him walk as we aren't going to overpay for the RT position in my opinion.

                    Go Rams!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Rams' Saffold finds peace in switch to right tackle

                      To be honest, I'm not going to be too upset if Saffold leaves for FA next year. Never was really a fan of his playing style. Hopefully he can perform strong this year and keep Bradford injury-free. The future is his choice.

                      Comment

                      Related Topics

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                      • Rambos
                        Saffold Settling in on Right Side
                        by Rambos
                        Nick Wagoner

                        Rodger Saffold hadn’t played any position but left tackle since his freshman year as a member of the Bedford High football team just outside of Cleveland.

                        As a ninth grader playing for the Bearcats, Saffold was a right tackle. Since, he’s played in dozens of games, exclusively on the left side.

                        But now, after the Rams’ high-profile signing of four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long to play left tackle, Saffold is re-learning a position long since forgotten.

                        Like anything, there will be some growing pains for Saffold in making the switch but he said it hasn’t been as difficult as he might have estimated originally.

                        “Just with changing stances, it’s difficult because what you are used to doing, you have got to get that muscle memory and change everything up,” Saffold said. “Honestly, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it was going to be.”

                        In some sense, the main part of the transition is simply teaching the body to do the same things he’s been doing for years on the left side on the other hand. The mechanics and footwork will almost certainly take some time to learn but the details will take a bit longer.

                        Although Saffold has been working during on-field drills on his footwork and learning the right side for about a month now, this week has offered his first chance to participate in any sort of actual drills against competition.

                        The Rams held their first Organized Team Activity on Tuesday and went through No. 2 on Thursday. While the sample size has been small, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been pleased with what he’s seen from Saffold in making the move.

                        “Football is football,” Fisher said. “The responsibilities are the same. It’s just at the point of attack when the ball goes to the right. Typically, the right tackle may have a tight end outside of him more often than the left tackle does. With a right handed quarterback you are typically right handed. But he’s done a great job since we moved him over.”

                        Saffold has left no stone unturned in getting familiar with his new position. He’s spent time with defensive end Chris Long, who has helped him get acquainted with some of the pass rushing techniques and looks that he can expect to see while playing right tackle.

                        In addition, Saffold has made a habit of staying after practice to get more footwork drills in and get some additional guidance from offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.

                        So far, Saffold has noticed some differences on the right side but doesn’t believe any of them will make or break his transition.
                        “There are a few things that are different,” Saffold said. “When you switch up, sometimes your depth perception of the defensive end is different. It’s hard to feel whether they really got your edge or you overset to let somebody inside. It’s repetition and with a good amount of reps that is all going to change.”...
                        -05-23-2013, 03:07 PM
                      • MauiRam
                        Saffold's back, and at right guard/PD/JT
                        by MauiRam
                        By Jim Thomas

                        The big fella is back in uniform and all about the business of getting ready for the season opener Sept. 13 against Seattle.
                        One of the strongest players on the team, and easily the most experienced starter on the offensive line, Rodger Saffold immediately makes the Rams a better blocking team.

                        “Rodger’s back on the field a little bit, doing some stuff,” coach Jeff Fisher said after Tuesday’s practice. “He’ll be questionable for Thursday, but obviously, definitely, he’s in a really good position for the opener.”

                        The Rams close out the preseason Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome with the almost annual Governor’s Cup game against Kansas City. Then it’s on to the real deal — Seattle and opening day.

                        Saffold left no doubt about his availability for that one.

                        “Absolutely,” he replied.

                        In fact, he even provided a position.

                        “I’m gonna go ahead and play right guard,” Saffold said. “The coaches really felt the way that things have been going we would be firmer (in that alignment).”

                        Suddenly, four-fifths of the Rams’ starting offensive line looks set for Seattle, with Greg Robinson (left) and rookie Rob Havenstein (right) at tackle, and rookie Jamon Brown (left) and Saffold (right) at guard. As for center? TBD.

                        Brown has missed both practices this week with an ankle injury but is expected to be fine for Seattle. As for Saffold, it seems like forever since he last played, but in truth it’s been less than three weeks. He went out on the Rams’ fourth offensive play of the Aug. 14 preseason opener in Oakland.

                        “It was just an awkward hit,” Saffold said. “I was definitely ready to (return) sooner than (the coaches) wanted. But I understand for the sake of the season, and for the sake of some of these guys to get some experience playing ball, I needed to wait.”

                        Saffold underwent surgery on his left shoulder immediately following the 2014 season; the injury in Oakland was a tweak of his right shoulder.

                        Saffold has enough experience that it shouldn’t be a problem being mentally ready and technique ready for Seattle. They’re a familiar opponent.

                        “He’s played a lot of games,” Fisher said. “He’s played the Seahawks. He understands, so I’m not concerned about that. The one thing that he’s doing is he’s getting the walk-through reps, so the communication is very sound up front with the young guys.”

                        Because of past injuries, Saffold also is used to playing with a brace or wrap around his shoulder, and used to getting ready to play in a short period of time. Even so, there is that little matter of getting into “football shape” — the banging and...
                        -09-02-2015, 12:05 AM
                      • r8rh8rmike
                        Move To Guard Changed Much For Saffold
                        by r8rh8rmike
                        Move to guard changed much for Saffold

                        March, 14, 2014
                        By Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com

                        EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For all of the bizarre things that took place in the past week to get offensive lineman Rodger Saffold back as a member of the St. Louis Rams and addressing the local media in a news conference Friday afternoon, the one move that really started it all happened Nov. 10.

                        That was the day Saffold made his debut as a right guard against the Indianapolis Colts. It's hard to know for certain given the vagaries of the NFL but if that day had never happened, there's a strong possibility that Saffold wouldn't be a Ram nor would they have made much effort to keep him.

                        To that point, the 2013 season had been relatively tumultuous for Saffold. Given Saffold's injury issues in 2012, the team signed Jake Long to play left tackle and asked Saffold to move to the right side. It was a move he didn't love but never publicly complained about. Then, after early-season injury issues again popped up, Saffold found himself sharing the right tackle spot with Joe Barksdale upon his return from a Week 2 knee injury.

                        The previous three weeks before the game against Indianapolis, Saffold split reps with Barksdale. But the Rams wanted to get their five best offensive linemen on the field and with Barksdale and Saffold alternating at right tackle, they took one of those five off the field for chunks of the game. Long before that, there had been whispers that Saffold might be a better fit inside but it had never been tried because the Rams didn't have many options at tackle.

                        So it was that Saffold, in looking for a chance to be on the field consistently, and the Rams, looking to put their best line together, hatched the plan to put Saffold at right guard. Rams coach Jeff Fisher recalled the pivotal decision spurred by offensive line coach Paul Boudreau on Friday afternoon.

                        "Well, the conversation was initiated by Coach 'Bou'," Fisher said. " It’s hard to find a better one in the league than ‘Bou.' He just felt like with his understanding and his knowledge, the fact that he would line up next to Scott [Wells], and Scott could be of assistance to him and athletic ability -- it was an easy decision."

                        Saffold worked at guard all week leading up to the Colts game, an experience that was foreign to him. But nearly from the moment he jumped into the lineup at guard, it looked like a natural fit.

                        The pass protection part became easier as Saffold was no longer forced to cover so much ground against speedier rushers on the edge. He held up fine in that regard, but it was his ability as a run blocker that opened more than a few eyes to his potential inside.

                        Saffold's athleticism and size allowed him to become the prototype pulling guard as the Rams often got him on the move and allowed him to open holes for...
                        -03-15-2014, 01:52 PM
                      • MauiRam
                        Saffold knows he'll get punked, but still being a Ram makes it all good ..
                        by MauiRam
                        Saffold knows he'll get punked, but still being a Ram makes it all good
                        By Nate Latsch

                        Rodger Saffold knows something is coming. The St. Louis Rams' offensive lineman can feel it. He just isn't sure when.

                        But, yes, he's well aware that his offseason free agency odyssey from St. Louis to Oakland and then back to St. Louis has provided some material for his wannabe prank-artist teammates.

                        "I know that they are planning and scheming," Saffold tells FOXSportsMidwest.com. "I know that when we were out in our little sandbox area everybody was joking, saying that we were on Oakland's beach. So I had to take that.

                        "I was like, 'Oh, OK,'" Saffold continues, letting out a fake laugh. "That's funny. Hilarious. They are going to get me. I can feel it coming. It's kind of like when you know that people are talking about you behind your back."

                        Saffold isn't worried about most of his teammates, many of whom are younger and less established than the four-year NFL veteran blocker, who soon will be 25. Only one particularly concerns him: center Scott Wells.

                        "Because I'm the third-oldest guy, there aren't a lot of people that can play jokes on me," Saffold says. "Only the top two guys (Wells and Jake Long). Everyone else is like, 'I don't know if I want to do this.' I already know that Scott has something up his sleeve. I'm worried about it, honestly."

                        It's easy to laugh about now, more than two months later, after Saffold signed a new five-year contract worth more than $31 million with the Rams just days after he agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with the Raiders that was nullified by Oakland because of a failed physical.

                        Saffold is happy to be back in St. Louis and the Rams, who would have had to replace two starters on the offensive line had he left, are certainly happy to have him.

                        Saffold proved his value last season when he started games at right tackle before suffering an injury, then right guard upon his return, and then shifting to left tackle -- where he started his first three seasons -- following Long's season-ending knee injury.

                        So Saffold's presence strengthens a line that lost guards Chris Williams (Buffalo) and Shelley Smith (Miami) to free agency and released Harvey Dahl (still unsigned).


                        "You've got four returning starters," Saffold says. "You can't do much better than that. Now we just have to fill in a couple gaps, get some depth. That's all for Les (Snead) and coach (Jeff) Fisher. They are the ones who are going to be making those decisions. We just have to keep working."

                        After re-signing Saffold, the Rams selected Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, claimed backup Travis Bond after he was released by Carolina and signed free agent...
                        -05-31-2014, 10:36 PM
                      • MauiRam
                        “I want to be the best” — How Rodger Saffold plans on dominating at left tackle ..
                        by MauiRam
                        From IMG Academies BLog

                        Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

                        Coming out of Ohio’s Bedford High, which also boasts Chris Chambers and Lee Evans as alums, Rodger Saffold barely registered a blip on the recruiting radar. Offered scholarships by only a few D-I schools, Saffold chose Indiana, only to anchor the offensive line at left tackle for three-plus years after earning the starting spot midway through his freshman year.

                        After enrolling in the NFL Draft, analysts tabbed him as a middle-round pick. No problem, he thought. After dominant performances in the NFL Combine, personal workouts and interviews, Saffold went 33rd overall in the draft to the St. Louis Rams.

                        No way he could start at left tackle, the personal bodyguard for the highest-paid rookie in NFL history, right? Not only did he start every game, but earned All-Rookie status and helped Sam Bradford get the same honor.

                        So what’s next? In his own words between workouts at IMG Academies:

                        “When the season is over, your body is pretty much trashed. You do what you can to keep it at a certain level, but there’s only so much you can do. The best you will ever feel is the first day of training camp. After that day, you’ll never feel like that again for the rest of the season. You have to prepare for it, though, or you’ll break down.”

                        Saffold starts every workout with a dynamic warm-up to prepare his body and prevent injuries.


                        “(Sam Bradford’s) work ethic and dedication are amazing, but what I like about him is that he’ s not a robot. If the coaches call a play, and he has questions about it, he’ll talk to them and explain what he’s thinking. We’ve been roommates from day one. I want us to have that Jeff Saturday/Peyton Manning kind of thing. It’s already gotten to the point where I know how much room he needs to operate and I can sense it even when backpedaling. Not only am I keeping him away from hits and sacks, but I need to keep people out of his way.”

                        Saffold splits his daily workouts into two sessions: Speed/agility and strength. After doing hill workouts the day before, Saffold works with the renowned Loren Seagrave, Director of Speed and Movement at IMG, on improving his footwork on the IMG Performance Institute turf field.

                        “The best thing about being an offensive lineman is that you can be as violent as you want between the whistle. I’ve seen hitting, grabbing, everything. To put someone who is supposed to be one of the strongest people on the field on their back is an unbelievable feeling. There’s no running start. It’s just pure strength. It’s like a battle of bears out there.”

                        Saffold trains with other NFL players at IMG Academies, but most are at the skill positions, forcing him to keep up with players who are known for their speed and quickness. On this day, he trained with Green Bay rookie Randall Cobb (blue shirt), Minnesota...
                        -06-23-2011, 02:18 PM
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