Injury to Long puts Saffold back at left tackle

ST. LOUIS — One series in to Sunday’s game, Rodger Saffold was back at left tackle for the St. Louis Rams. What a strange trip it has been.

Left tackle was Saffold’s spot his first three NFL seasons after the Rams drafted him in the second round. He wears No. 76 in tribute to former Rams seven-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace, who manned that position.

When Jake Long signed a free-agent deal with St. Louis last offseason, Saffold became a right tackle without much fuss. Saffold’s versatility got tested again when the Rams (7-8) wanted to plug a gap at guard for injured Harvey Dahl.

After Long was carted off the field with a torn anterior cruciate ligament after the third snap of Sunday’s 23-13 victory against the Buccaneers, Saffold was home again as the anchor of a unit that gave up just one sack and paved the way for rookie Zac Stacy’s second straight 100-yard rushing day.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Saffold said. “I kind of blame my father for this move: He called and said ‘God forbid anything happen, but be ready.’”

But for how long?

Saffold will start at left tackle in the finale at Seattle this week, but coach Jeff Fisher said Monday he thought Saffold’s best position in the future might be guard because he’s good at pulling. He’s perhaps the strongest player on the team.

“Rodger’s a tremendous athlete and when healthy you could put him up there with some of the best in the league,” Fisher said. “What we’ve done in the run game has involved him pulling.”

Saffold is eligible for free agency and could leave in search of a left-tackle opening. Uncertainty over Long’s rehab from the late-season injury could play into that scenario, and into the teams’ draft plans, too.

The Rams have two first-round picks, including perhaps the second overall pick as the final payoff from the Robert Griffin III trade with Washington.

The team remains confident quarterback Sam Bradford will be back in time from next season from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee — but that injury was two months ago.

Long also has a torn MCL in his right knee, so surgery will likely be delayed 4-6 weeks to allow the MCL to heal first and to allow time to strengthen surrounding areas. Long was injured backpedaling in pass protection on the third snap.

“He’s understands what’s ahead, obviously he’s shocked right now,” Fisher said. “He was just a little off-balance, it was one of those weird things that happened.”

Fisher thinks Long, the first overall pick in 2008, will be ready for the 2014 opener because the rehab path is easier for a lineman than a skill position player who has to make more cuts. Then again, Long is 6-foot-7 and 322 pounds, putting a lot more pressure on the joint, plus missed practice time with knee woes in 2012 with Miami.

“We’ll address that once we’re finished with this season,” Fisher said. “I would have confidence in him coming back. He’ll get himself back and ready to play. The doctors are very optimistic, as he was.”

Fisher said Dahl could play in the finale Sunday. Dahl missed four games with a torn MCL earlier in the season, returned to the lineup for one game, but has been inactive the last two games

The coach didn’t think Dahl had returned too early, saying “He’s just nursing a couple things right now.”

Fisher was somewhat optimistic about Tavon Austin playing after missing two games with a left ankle injury, saying “I think he’s got a better chance this week than he did last.”

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