A return to action Saturday in Denver seems highly unlikely, but Rams right tackle Rodger Saffold is working his way back into the practice routine after suffering a dislocated left shoulder Aug. 9 in Cleveland.
“Day by day,” Saffold said. “I have to kind of work my way into individual (drills), and then start to work my way into the team (11-on-11) and then go all out.
“I’m glad I got to get some punching in. I feel good about it.”
Saffold was referring there to the slight amount of individual work he did in practice Tuesday, a day when his workload was limited in part because the practice was heavy on “team” work.
“That’s just the way it is sometimes,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get to do a little bit more (today), and then just see where I go from there.”
Saffold is eager to play in an exhibition game, but as always, defers to head athletic trainer Reggie Scott and the Rams’ medical staff.
“But if I get close before Denver, then I would love to play,” Saffold said. “Because I need reps against other people so I can get prepared for the first game.”
More likely is a return Aug. 29 in the exhibition finale, against Baltimore. Worst-case scenario, just a few practices against left defensive ends Chris Long and William Hayes should do the trick prior to the regular-season opener, on Sept. 8 against Arizona.
“I think if I have any kind of rust, it will probably come off during practice,” Saffold said. “Because honestly, going against Chris Long and William Hayes, those guys aren’t easy defensive guys by a long shot. So if anybody’s gonna get me prepared, they will.”
Saffold isn’t sure if the injury occurred while punching out at a defender, or in bracing himself with the left hand while falling to the turf at FirstEnergy Stadium. But he thinks it might have been a little of both.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “When you look at it (on tape), I flip over so fast and it’s hard to tell when exactly it happened. All I know is that it was out.
“I kind of just sat there like, ‘OK, it’s out. Should I wait here for them to put it back in? Or should I put it in myself?’ ”
He decided to leave it to the medical/training staff, which popped the shoulder back in right there in the middle of the field. Saffold, who is from Cleveland, had plenty of family members and friends in the stands that night, including his mom and dad. They obviously were concerned.
Now it’s a matter of making sure the shoulder is stable, and regaining strength in the muscles around it. Coming back too soon, or failing to build up the surrounding muscles, could result in the shoulder popping out of place again.
“So it’s just about strength and time, and letting it scar up a little bit,” Saffold said. “It’s kind of like, let’s fix it. Let’s make sure it’s fixed first, so we don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the season. And I just have to protect it.”
The shoulder dislocation was the latest in a series of freakish injuries for Saffold, who started all 16 games at left tackle as a rookie in 2010 and made several all-rookie teams. He missed the final seven games of the 2011 season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle lifting weights the Friday before the team’s Nov. 20 game against Seattle.
Last season, he suffered what initially looked like a scary neck injury in the regular season opener in Detroit. He spent part of that afternoon in a Detroit hospital for tests and evaluation, only to start the next Sunday against Washington.
But he didn’t last long against the Redskins, suffering a knee injury 5½ minutes into the game while trying to run with a recovered fumble. He missed the next six weeks.
And now this.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Saffold said. “I didn’t mope around at all after this happened. I kinda just took it as, ‘OK, now what do I need to do? How do I need to act mentally during meetings? And how can I help out the rest of the team be ready to play the next game? I think I’ve handled it well.”
Saffold said his switch to right tackle was going well before the injury in Cleveland.
“It was going great at that point,” Saffold said. “I was starting to feel it.”
For years, Saffold had only played left tackle and he made the move with some reluctance after the Rams signed Jake Long from Miami in free agency to play the left side.
Saffold writes with his left hand, but throws righthanded. In baseball and softball, he’s a switch-hitter.
So in that sense, switching from left to right is nothing new. Obviously, doing so when 260-pound edge rushers, or 320-pound behemoths are coming at you is a different deal.
But the acclimation process in terms of technique and footwork was starting to become muscle memory before the Cleveland game.
“I think it was,” Saffold said. “I was really focused on this. It’s a big challenge.”
A challenge that’s about to begin anew.