“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Rodger Saffold would probably like to have his first impression with Titans fans back. After sitting out the first preseason game with several other older veterans, Rodger Saffold made his preseason debut on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium after signing a four-year, $44M contract with Tennessee in March.
On the second play from the Titans offense, Marcus Mariota dropped back to pass and was almost immediately swallowed up by Patriots rookie defensive tackle Byron Cowart. The culprit on the offensive line was none other than Saffold, who had been bowled over by Cowart on his way to the quarterback.
That play is an offensive lineman’s nightmare. It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong without being in Saffold’s head, but it looks to me like he gets caught being a little too casual and upright in his pass set. His punch with his outside hand gets caught by Cowart at the same time that his outside foot is off the ground (not a good combination).
It was an awful rep for a guy that the Titans just paid a lot of money to not have awful reps. However... Saffold settled down after this play and showed off some of the ability that has made him one of the best guards in football over the last few years and a perfect fit for Arthur Smith’s outside zone based run scheme. Let’s take a look at some of the really good work that is getting overshadowed by the one really really bad rep.
We can start with pass protection with a couple snaps where Saffold was on the other end of plays where players ended up on the ground. Here, he’s looking for work after the Patriots bluff a blitz, eventually finding a stunting Shilique Calhoun and putting him on the ground with a forearm shiver.
Later in the same drive he draws Ja’Whaun Bentley and tosses him to the ground. Saffold has Bentley by almost 70 pounds so this is about what you’d expect, but it’s always good to see a guy take care of business when he should.
The most impressive part of Saffold’s night — and the primary reason he was brought over from the Rams to replace Quinton Spain — was his ability to make athletic blocks in the Titans outside zone heavy run scheme. Watch Saffold climb to the second level and disrupt the Mike linebacker on this snap. That’s some incredible athleticism for a guy who goes 6’-5” and 323 pounds.
Here it is again a few plays later. Saffold’s ability to make these blocks have been a big part of the success of the Rams rushing attack over the past couple years and it’s good to see it translating in Tennessee. His ability to reach Mike linebackers from the backside is going to open up a ton of cutback lanes for Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis this season. This isn’t a knock on Quinton Spain, who I believe to be a good football player in his own right, but there is zero chance he’s making these kinds of blocks with any sort of consistency.
Finally, here is a great endzone angle of another outside zone run. Again, Saffold climbs and picks off the linebacker, disrupting his route to the ball and giving Jeremy McNichols time to get up field. This is the run that got called back for a hold on Anthony Firkser (No. 86 on the right of the screen), but the blocking by the offensive line is beautiful across the board. Jack Conklin’s reach block on Deatrich Wise is absolutely textbook and MyCole Pruitt does a great job of driving his man out of the play entirely.
Saffold’s skill set is a perfect scheme fit for what the Titans want to do in the running game and he’s never been a poor pass blocker. Last season he ranked 16th among all qualifying guards in PFF’s Pass Block Efficiency metric. Despite the tough rep early in the game, he was able to flash some of those skills in his preseason debut and that should be the take away for fans getting to know their new left guard.