Long injury puts Saffold back at left tackle

One series in to Sunday’s game, Rodger Saffold was back at left

tackle for the St. Louis Rams. What a strange trip it has been.

Left tackle was Saffold’s spot his first three NFL seasons after

the Rams drafted him in the second round. He wears No. 76 in

tribute to former Rams seven-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace, who

manned that position.

When Jake Long signed a free-agent deal with St. Louis last

offseason, Saffold became a right tackle without much fuss.

Saffold’s versatility got tested again when the Rams (7-8) wanted

to plug a gap at guard for injured Harvey Dahl.

After Long was carted off the field with a torn anterior

cruciate ligament after the third snap of Sunday’s 23-13 victory

over the Buccaneers, Saffold was home again as the anchor of a unit

that gave up just one sack and paved the way for rookie Zac Stacy’s

second straight 100-yard rushing day.

”It’s kind of crazy,” Saffold said. ”I kind of blame my

father for this move: He called and said `God forbid anything

happen, but be ready.”’

But for how long?

Saffold will start at left tackle in the finale at Seattle this

week, but coach Jeff Fisher said Monday he thought Saffold’s best

position in the future might be guard because he’s good at pulling.

He’s perhaps the strongest player on the team.

”Rodger’s a tremendous athlete and when healthy you could put

him up there with some of the best in the league,” Fisher said.

”What we’ve done in the run game has involved him pulling.”

Saffold is eligible for free agency and could leave in search of

a left tackle opening. Uncertainty over Long’s rehab from the

late-season injury could play into that scenario, and into the

teams’ draft plans, too.

The Rams have two first-round picks, including perhaps the

second overall pick as the final payoff from the Robert Griffin III

trade with Washington.

The team remains confident quarterback Sam Bradford will be back

in time from next season from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his

left knee – but that injury was two months ago.

Long also has a torn MCL in his right knee, so surgery will

likely be delayed 4-6 weeks to allow the MCL to heal first and to

allow time to strengthen surrounding areas. Long was injured

backpedaling in pass protection on the third snap.

”He’s understands what’s ahead, obviously he’s shocked right

now,” Fisher said. ”He was just a little off-balance, it was one

of those weird things that happened.”

Fisher thinks Long, a four-time Pro Bowler who was the first

overall pick in 2008, will be ready for the 2014 opener because the

rehab path is easier for a lineman than a skill position player who

has to make more cuts. Then again, Long is 6-foot-7 and 322 pounds,

putting a lot more pressure on the joint, plus missed practice time

with right knee woes in 2012 with Miami.

”We’ll address that once we’re finished with this season,”

Fisher said. ”I would have confidence in him coming back. He’ll

get himself back and ready to play.

”The doctors are very optimistic, as he was.”

Fisher said Dahl could play in the finale Sunday at Seattle.

Dahl missed four games with a torn MCL earlier in the season,

returned to the lineup for one game, but has been inactive the last

two games

The coach didn’t think Dahl had returned too early, saying

”He’s just nursing a couple things right now.”

Fisher was somewhat optimistic about rookie Tavon Austin playing

in the finale after missing two games with a left ankle injury,

saying ”I think he’s got a better chance this week than he did

last.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org