|Kevin Terrell / Associated Press|
|Rodger Saffold (left) and Sam Bradford are two second-year Rams making the most of the lockout.|
The St. Louis Rams are not among the teams to hold a full-scale team workout or player-sanctioned mini-camp, but second-year offensive tackle Rodger Saffold is among those working hard daily, on an individual basis, to be ready for football whenever the lockout ends.
The Rams, a young bunch that jelled over the course of the 2010 season and exceeded expectations behind rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, are one of the teams that could be most hurt by this unusual offseason. They were a group that didn't want last season to end, an eager team looking forward to reconvening in the spring to continue their development and aim for an NFC West title.
Instead, they find themselves largely dispersed throughout the country, for the most part. They have gathered by position groups -- with Bradford getting together with his receivers for a passing camp and the offensive linemen spending time together working on routine drills and footwork. To this point there has been no mass gathering across positions, and, furthermore, there is no one way to navigate this bizarre situation. Who is to say the teams working as a unit will be any better equipped to prosper when the lockout ends?
Players are left to figure things out on their own. There is risk involved in any drills -- right now players are not covered under league benefits and insurance, so any injury suffered now that impedes their ability to play next season would be more complicated than usual. And it's debatable how much is really to be gained by getting together to sweat some in May, given how far we are from the season starting.
After spending more than a month working out with teammates, Saffold is now at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Cam Newton, Josh Freeman and handfuls of players from other teams have gathered to lift weights and get some specialized training. Saffold was at IMG in the winter, as well, taking only a few weeks off when the Rams fell short of the division title, and then getting right back to work on his own.
"As a team we broke it up by positions," said Saffold, a promising tackle who was taken with the first pick of the second round in 2010 and paid immediate dividends for St. Louis. "As far as the offensive line, we were working together for six weeks, and after that I ended up coming down here to train some more just for myself. We've been working together on and off, just depending on the timing.
"Everybody is working hard and nobody is really taking time off. By coming down here, I figured I'd start getting in the heat now and working in it so I don't have to worry about it later."
Saffold said his legs feel stronger. He has been working in pads with former players and coaches to try to replicate a normal offseason program and takes care of his nutrition with the kitchen at the IMG facility. Like everyone else, he is uncertain of what to make of the current legal battles being waged between the owners and players, and unsure of when things will get back to normal.
"Basically, it's just a waiting game," Saffold said. "And the good thing is I get to wait in Florida."
Saffold acknowledged that the lack of structure this offseason could more heavily impact a younger team like the Rams, where new leaders were just starting to emerge and where players still need a fair bit of coaching and massaging into the NFL ranks.
"You really do feel out of place now," he said. "But the good thing is that we keep in touch on a constant basis. I'm in touch with all of the offensive linemen, making sure everyone is doing good even though we're all in different places doing different things. Hopefully it can be like before we left."
However, Saffold also knows this experience is not unique to the Rams. All teams are caught up in this turmoil and confusion. And the longer it drags through the spring, the more detrimental it could prove to be.
"We were happy with our success last year, but we knew we could be better," Saffold said. "The lockout is definitely a disadvantage, but it's a disadvantage for everybody. Until it's settled, we need to make sure we're capitalizing on everything we possibly can."
For now, there are no immediate plans to convene as a team during the lockout, but it's a possibility.
"I don't know about that yet," Saffold said. "But as soon as I hear something, I'm on my way."
Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora