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At 27, Rodger Saffold becomes O-line's wise old man

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After January shoulder surgery forced St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to spend the majority of his offseason rehabilitating at Rams Park, Saffold often found himself feeling lonely.

Saffold's average day would consist of plenty of rehab with the team's athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, but when that was done, Saffold usually retired to the offensive line's meeting room to watch film. He was sometimes joined by offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who is also recovering from offseason surgery (on his toe), but more often than not, he didn't have much in the way of company. That was especially true after the team released veteran offensive linemen Jake Long and Scott Wells and chose not to re-sign guard Davin Joseph.

That's no longer a problem after the Rams signed veteran Garrett Reynolds in free agency and then went on to spend four draft picks on offensive linemen, including projected starters in the second and third rounds.

So it is that at the ripe old age of 27, Saffold is no longer rolling solo but now thrust into the important role of veteran presence for a line that projects to be the youngest in the NFL in 2015.

"I’m doing my best at that," Saffold said. "It’s kind of hard because you are not in practice. But just staying engaged with the guys as far as mental reps because a lot of these young guys are not going to get a lot of reps. The O-line room is pretty much vacant most of the year. Now there’s nowhere to sit. You have got to be able to help these guys out. Right now, I’m kind of like a coach, just sitting there, reading scripts and helping out when I can."

The first order of business for Saffold before he can fully dive into that newly-prescribed leadership role is to get his shoulder back to full strength. He has been plagued by injuries on a consistent basis throughout his career -- though he played in all 16 games last year for the first time since his rookie season in 2010. There were a couple of hiccups that cost Saffold parts of games here and there, though, usually related to the on-going shoulder problem.

It's the same shoulder issue that scared away the Oakland Raiders in 2014 after they agreed to terms on a big-money contract. The Raiders decided to part ways with Saffold, paving the way for his return to St. Louis. After playing through the issue last year, Saffold decided the time was right to finally get it fixed.

"The biggest thing about it was I was able to play all 16 games, which just kind of let me know that doing this thing was not the end of the world so now I can just come back and really play," Saffold said. "It’s a crazy game. Things just pop up out of nowhere, but right now I’m very, very confident [in the shoulder]."

During organized team activities, Saffold has been limited to participating mostly in individual drills. He says he's feeling good, but the Rams have no interest in rushing Saffold back before he's ready.

In the meantime, he is spending whatever time that doesn't go toward rehabbing the shoulder to helping young linemen like tackle Rob Havenstein and guard Jamon Brown.

"The best thing about the injury -- I don’t want to say there’s anything good about injuries -- but the good thing about injury is you stay in the building," Saffold said. "So a lot of times people are on vacation and things, and I’m still in the building working. That helped me a lot as far as weight room wise and getting everything together. And being able to work with some of the young guys that are still here."

Becoming the guy that all of the young linemen look to for answers hasn't been a bad thing for Saffold, though he's the first to admit it's kind of strange. This is, after all, the guy who spends much of his down time playing with and running a team of video gamers and has often referred to himself as a big kid.

"Yeah, it is, it’s kind of different," Saffold said. "Especially with this team, being the longest with this team, being able to help everybody. It’s a big role, but I like those things. I like changes. That way it keeps you more engaged, and things are a little less boring."

And far less lonely.