Reports from the St. Louis Rams' first practice with pads on Thursday were not exactly glowing when it came to the offensive line. That has to be a huge concern for the team given the unit's struggles in recent seasons. Nevertheless, the news about the front five was not all bad.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold is healthy and back in action, a positive start for a player that struggled last season. He also dedicated himself to his craft during the offseason. Head coach Jeff Fisher took notice.
"The injury's completely behind him," Fisher said. "He's strong. He's really worked hard this offseason, with his feet, his balance and his technique and the injury's behind and he's doing just fine. He's got a couple pretty good rushers out there to work against every day."
Saffold allowed 11 sacks, four hits and 17 hurries last season, as part of a group that struggled to keep Bradford and the backups on their feet over the course of the Rams' 2-14 season.
Former NFL offensive lineman and Football Outsiders contributor Ben Muth wrote a piece on Saffold and the Rams' struggles last season that I've linked to before. One thing of note in Muth's assessment is that Saffold plays with a natural ability as a pass blocker. Ironing out his fundamentals and honing his craft could be an important step forward for the third-year tackle out of Indiana.
St. Louis' hopes rest heavily on Saffold's shoulders. The left tackle has plenty at stake personally as well. The Rams have a nice little cap budget for 2013 and two first-round picks in the draft. If Saffold cannot live up to expectations, the Rams can easily draft his replacement and move Saffold to the right side. He has two years left on his contract, starting left tackles make considerably more than their counterparts on the other side. Elevating his play could help bump him into a new tax bracket.