And, by his own admission, Saffold did have those fears upon being cleared to resume workouts. After all, the injury had brought his second season to an end with seven games to play and Saffold had missed an opportunity to get even more experience under his belt.
“It’s been a road for me because it was hard to get back on the bench after getting injured like that and then get back in there and lift that kind of weight again,” Saffold said. “It was tough. But I was able to get through it.”
To say that Saffold has been able to get through it would be a bit of an understatement. Of the nearly 90 players on the Rams roster, there might not be one who has undergone a more impressive and serious physical transformation than Saffold during the team’s offseason program.
Saffold, who said he has usually played somewhere between 312 and 315 pounds, appears as though he has had no problems doing any weight work as he’s bulked up to about 325 pounds.
From the looks of it, that additional weight is all muscle and most of it appears to have settled in his upper body. He credits strength and conditioning coaches Rock Gullickson and Adam Bailey with his transformation.
“Oh, I’m a lot bigger,” Saffold said. “It’s thanks to those guys. Adam and Rock did a great job. I’ve gained weight just lifting weights and eating right. It’s helped me a lot to stay here and work with the same people who know about my injury. I’m going to be ready to go for training camp.”
Saffold had to ease his way back into weight lifting but once he did, he said he has gotten more comfortable each week with being back in the weight room. He’s back to lifting large amounts of weights and challenging his teammates to get on his level.
“You are always going to feel that (apprehension),” Saffold said. “But now I have gotten so comfortable that I know that it’s OK so it’s been good. I have been making strides every week.”
While Saffold has been packing on muscle, he’s also been slowly working his way back into the mix on the field as well. During the team’s Organized Team Activities and minicamps, Saffold has participated exclusively in individual drills as he continues to recover from the pectoral injury.
As a precaution, the Rams have brought Saffold along more slowly when it comes to working in team drills and lining up at his customary left tackle position. The competitive part of Saffold wants to be on the field with his teammates but he also understands that it’s more important for him to be at full speed when the pads come on for training camp.
“I feel fantastic,” Saffold said. Most of what’s going on nowadays is just precautionary, making sure I am good for camp. As important as these practices are, we are still not practicing for a full game so it’s better for me to just learn and wait and get prepared because they can help me get prepared in those OTAs in the walkthroughs and that. We are just trying to be low risk about it.”
So when the Rams transition to team drills, Saffold goes to the sideline and watches
Although Saffold hasn’t been able to play during team drills, he has done enough to impress coach Jeff Fisher with his work in the weight room and during individual drills.
“Not only in the weight room but in the individual stuff, he’s doing really well,” Fisher said. “We’re just holding back the contact. He’s very, very close to being cleared - definitely for camp. He’s very athletic, smart. He’s going to get the job done out there. There’s no doubt.”
Part of that faith in Saffold stems from the work he’s doing with new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau.
Known for his hard-edged but detailed approach to the game, Boudreau is one of the most respected line coaches in the league. He has caught Saffold’s attention right away.
“I think he’s a smart coach overall,” Saffold said. “He’s smart, he know what he’s doing. His technique is very detailed; he wants to take care of every little angle, every move, every stance. He wants you to be in your most comfortable position so you can get the job done. So far it’s been great.”
Saffold has learned much from Boudreau already, including some important pointers about an area in which he struggled last season. On the heels of a strong rookie performance, he had high hopes for his second season but hadn’t been able to repeat that performance even before he was injured.
One area that seemed to plague Saffold was handling strong, powerful bull rushers that came right at him. Soon after meeting with Boudreau for the first time, Saffold said his new coach pointed out a flaw in his technique that needed fine tuning.
The added weight will almost certainly help Saffold hold his ground against bigger pass rushers as well but Saffold points to a couple of different elements of the game as reasons for his extra bulk.
“Adding this strength is meant to just make me better overall so everything is a little bit easier when I am back on my game,” Saffold said. “The rehab, the one on ones I’ve had with coach, it’s looking much better for all the technique stuff that I needed to correct.”
Of course, at 325 pounds, Saffold also more closely fits the mold of the types of offensive linemen Fisher has long preferred to have.
Schottenheimer’s offense will take on the identity that Fisher always pushes in terms of playing stout at the line of scrimmage and pushing opponents around. With more muscle, Saffold should be able to do that on a more regular basis.
“It’s just more physical,” Saffold said. “We are a physical team now. We concentrate on the passing game as well but the way we run, the way everything is set up, we are giving ourselves more opportunities to take more pressure off us in the passing game. We are becoming even more balanced which is going to help us so when we do have to get into those pass sets, they don’t have a read on us and can get a beat on what we are trying to do.”