Sam Bradford is supposed to be the big story for the St. Louis Rams right now. First overall pick, future of the franchise, when will he start...that should be dominating the conversation about the Rams right now. Don't get me wrong, Bradford gets plenty of ink. However, he's doing exactly what you would expect: mixing the good days with the bad, learning from it and coming right back into the huddle determined to get better. It's all kind of anticlimactic at this point.
Instead, the big story is about another pair of the early draft picks, offensive tackle and second overall pick last year Jason Smith and this year's second round pick OT Rodger Saffold. As you know, Saffold are working Saffold on the left side, and are pretty encouraged by what they've seen so far. Smith has been sidelined until yesterday, recovering from a toe he broke in a June practice.
So, will Rodger Saffold be the Rams starting left tackle when the season opens in September? Let's explore the issues around the hottest topic on the minds of Rams fans right now.
First, it's important to remember that the season is not here yet. The Rams have been in camp for a week, less than that for the entire roster. Things can and will change between now and week 1.
The coaching staff went on the record stating that the size of the contracts will not be a determining factor in who starts where. I would hope not. Front office staff and coaches can weigh the cost of a player's contract versus his contribution on the field. Too often teams hurt themselves when they hang onto prospects failing to reach their potential, trying to get some return out of their investment, see Barron, Alex.
But that's not the case with Smith. Though he's battled with injuries, he's far from a bust. In fact, Smith made it evident why the Rams picked him second overall looking pretty good. Of the three players who spent the most time at OT for the Rams last year - Smith, Barron and Adam Goldberg - Smith had the best results for keeping pass rushers from molesting the Rams quarterbacks.
Let's stay with Smith for now. In the article linked above, Howard Blazer mentions that Smith was widely viewed as a better run blocker than pass blocker coming into the league last year. That was one reason he was playing RT last year. I remember the situation being a little less clear cut than that. Smith came into the league from a spread offense, making the three-point stance part of Smith's adjustment and thus his run blocking. Concern about his pass blocking had more to do with facing NFL rushers versus their college counterparts.
Smith performed like a rookie, a really talented rookie. He had hiccups in adjusting to both the stance and the size/speed of NFL rushers, but he ultimately performed consistent with expectations...when he was playing, which is what makes it so difficult to evaluate Smith. And I think that's what the coaching staff is perhaps struggling with a little bit.
Injury history aside, Smith's a gamer and having to watch from the sidelines will surely have provided a little extra motivation.
And what about Saffold? By all accounts he's looking good working on the left side. That does not mean the Rams have chiseled his name into the starting lineup. It wasn't all that long ago there was talk of Saffold being in the mix at guard, where the Rams had him practicing some in the spring. If you think back to draft time, you'll recall that the scouting reports on Saffold said he profiled as a RT or even an interior lineman in the NFL.
Check out what Mocking the Draft said about him in their scouting report:
Pass Blocking-Above Average pass blocker. He isn't elite but he definitely holds his own. Gets back in his stance fast and shuffles his feet quickly. Really, His quick feet make him a very promising pass blocker in a zone blocking scheme. He could seal off the edge against some of the best pass rushers in the Big 10. However, He isn't an NFL ready pass blocker and seems to do better with help.
Run Blocking- Really Good, Really struggles with bull rushing DL, but this could be due to his lack of strength. One thing I noticed is his ability to get to the second level which is promising. He just gets tangled up at the line with bigger stronger DL. However, his ability to get to the second level shows he could be a solid run blocker when he adds strength. He displayed very good run blocking in the Senior Bowl.
The distance between scouting reports and the reality on the field can be a mile wide. I've never seen an Indiana game, with or without Saffold, so I can't directly comment on his fit. I do know that Indiana had pretty impressive pass protection with Saffold as their starting LT, so it's not like he's learning a completely new language on that side with the Rams.
Ultimately, I think you'll see Jason Smith on the left side. He's got more experience in the NFL, albeit not much given his injury history. Smith is also a pretty natural pass blocker whose experience in the spread matches well with what I think the Rams will be doing with Bradford and the offense, working out of the shotgun in particular.
Remember, it's a long way until week 1. The biggest win would be having two offensive tackles who can excel on either side of the line.