Moving Saffold to guard the right move

Rodger Saffold's blocking should help boost the Raiders' running game -- if he can stay healthy. AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The sample size is small but so far the St. Louis Rams' decision to plug Rodger Saffold in at right guard in the absence of Harvey Dahl appears to be a good one.

In the short term, Saffold provides the Rams an athletic, talented blocker on the inside while the fiery Dahl recovers from a knee injury. For proof, check out Saffold's work on the 56-yard run from back Benny Cunningham against Indianapolis where he slides his feet quickly to the left and provides a powerful punch to open the hole for Cunningham.

In just one start, Saffold impressed head coach Jeff Fisher.

“‘Rodge' did a nice job considering he was just in there for a week," Fisher said. "‘Bou' [offensive line coach Paul T. Boudreau] did a great job preparing him, worked really well with [center] Scott [Wells] and [right tackle] Joe [Barksdale] and he's only going to get better at it. There's little things to clean up, as you would imagine, the technical things. But, I thought overall he did a pretty good job in there.”

According to Fisher, Dahl's recovery is coming along but Saffold's performance against Indianapolis last week at least earned him another look. Fisher confirmed Monday that Saffold will continue to handle the right guard responsibilities with Dahl out.

The decision to move Saffold came last week and the idea, as we discussed early Sunday morning, was simply to get the five best linemen on the field. Saffold had been working behind Barksdale at right tackle but what was an even split had evolved into Saffold getting limited work while Shelley Smith handled the right guard job.

Saffold had played well enough to earn more playing time and Barksdale has earned the opportunity to continue starting at right tackle. That left the Rams trying to find ways to get Saffold on the field.

“We discussed it real early last week and felt like that would be a good option," Fisher said. "He's playing really well coming off the injury and then would get an opportunity to play at tackle and kind of alternate with Joe; he was playing well. And Joe's playing good, so we felt like let's put the best guys out there.”

Saffold, who has taken his second position switch in the past six months about as well as could be expected, was pleased with his performance.

"It went really, really well," Saffold said. "There's definitely some things I need to work on. I'm definitely going to take some time to be able to watch the film with the coaches. I have so much respect for Harvey Dahl, Chris Williams, because it is tougher than it looks, but I think I was definitely able to hold my own. I was confident in my technique and I was able to open up some holes in the run game, so all in all I'm happy."

When Dahl returns, the Rams could again face a tough decision on what to do with Saffold. Williams has been up and down this season on the left side but the Rams may be hesitant to try Saffold at yet another position and disrupt chemistry on that side of the line.

What could be more interesting to monitor over the final six weeks is the effect Saffold's move inside has on his and the line's long-term future. There are those in the organization, both in the current and previous regime, who have long believed Saffold has the skills to become an elite guard.

Dahl is scheduled to count $4 million against the salary cap in 2014, the last year of his deal, and Williams' contract is up at the end of the season. Almost since the day the Rams signed left tackle Jake Long, evidence has piled up indicating Saffold and the Rams would likely part ways in the offseason, but it's fair to wonder if perhaps that line of thinking can change given his latest position switch combined with the Rams' forthcoming need at guard.

The easy assumption to make is that Saffold would earn a larger deal as a tackle on the open market but what if he does indeed prove to have elite guard skills in the final stretch of the season? An elite guard can easily make as much or more than an above-average tackle and Saffold seems to like playing in St. Louis, despite the constant game of musical positions.

Of course, Saffold's first order of business is to stay healthy before anyone can speculate on his possible worth to the Rams or on the open market. But much like the Rams did with Barksdale as Saffold's right tackle replacement, it might serve them well to do everything possible to get a gauge if the Saffold-at-guard experiment would be worthwhile beyond 2013.