It’s a long and tough road to get to the NFL for most players, but it might be an even more difficult task to get yourself mentally and physically “Ready To Play” in the NFL week in and week out. As we work our way towards the start of the NFL season, we’re speaking with a different NFL player each week and getting a first-hand account from them on how they get themselves ready for all of the rigors that come with competing at the NFL level. Here’s St. Louis Rams left guard Rodger Saffold, discussing how he gets “Ready To Play.”
The hardest thing about being an offensive lineman is that you’re wrestling with a big defensive guy for four seconds of the eight second play. You’re wrestling with another guy, you’re both fighting hard against each other for space and you’re sitting at home by the line the entire time. Then all of a sudden you’re hustling down the field after your running back or your wide receiver trying to block for a bigger gain. That’ll take a toll on you after 60-70 plays or so, which is why conditioning is everything.
My dad, he played the same position as me when he was my age and when I was growing up, so that’s what I said I wanted to do. I told him when I was about nine years old that I wanted to play in the NFL and seriously, he said, ‘OK, you’re a big kid, you should definitely play on the offensive line.’
I said, ‘cool, I’m with it.’
Then ever since I was nine my dad made me run a mile every day. He made me do push ups and sit ups and I was training non-stop even as a kid. I was training all the time, and eventually when it was time to play in high school – because I didn’t get to play Pee Wee because I was too big – I finally started playing football and I found my niche just stuck with it.
In high school, a lot of my friends – also big guys – would look up to me and I kind of just made them want to work harder because my dad used to make me run up the bleachers in the summer, every summer, all summer long.
My dad, he was a strict man, but at the same time he made me work, and it’s one of those things I appreciate now.
Now as kind of a vet in this league, I know how to work, and through my experiences over the years, a lot of the mistakes I’ve made I’ve been able to change. My nutrition is a lot better. Just knowing what to eat and how to eat it, what best fuels my body after a workout, those types of things are very important because strength is such a big thing for us offensive linemen.
I eat a lot of big smoothies, lots of vegetables, pasta, anything that’s going to get me to get energy, have energy, and hold energy; Especially the simple sugars and the complex sugars that are going to last and really fuel you through the game or through a workout.
As far as working out goes, I really wouldn’t mind working out every week for the rest of my life. Would be totally fine, but you definitely need some time off from the game because it’s a really vicious game. I mean, your muscles are so sore, your body feels so sore, it’s crazy how good you feel in the offseason.
Still, you don’t want to just speed up after a long offseason, especially when the offseason voluntary exercises start. You definitely don’t want to be that guy who gets there and then everyone sees that you pulled a hamstring or something because you haven’t been working out. That or you come in weighing 10 pounds, 15 pounds over what you were weighing before and realize ‘uh oh, I need to get my butt into shape.’
Besides learning how to take care of my body, one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is how to really watch film. A lot of times you think that you’re good at watching film and then you go in there and you’re looking to study but it seems like you’re just watching a videotape. For me, I actually learned what to look at, how to critique it and now when I spend an hour, two hours in the film room, I actually can say that I’m learning something. I try to help everybody watch tape, too. Try and help them figure out what to look for so it doesn’t feel like you’re not just staring at the screen.
What’s changed most for me over the years though is the day-to-day routine. Every Tuesday, I go to the active release therapist and pretty much check out my back, shoulders, knees, hamstrings, all stuff like that and make sure I’m loosened up before the practice even starts – especially since my surgery.
I remember my situation with the Raiders happening before last season, and it was rough, because there was nothing wrong with my shoulder all year and it was nothing that I was thinking about. Literally, the last thing I was thinking about was my shoulder. I’ve had MCL tears in my knee, maybe two in my right and two in my left. But hearing that the Raiders had concerns over my shoulder I was just like, ‘wow, that’s the last thing I thought you guys would care about.’
Then the next year, when I came back to the Rams, they said they didn’t have a problem at all, but I noticed I started thinking about it more. Then, because I thought about it, it started popping out again. It came out of its socket maybe three or four times during the year, and before that, it was something that wasn’t even bothering me.
That’s why being able to play 16 games last year was really, really big for me – it was kind of like I was proving myself. Then I went ahead and got the shoulder taken care of this offseason anyway. Now I’m back to my old self.
Loosening up and making sure I’m feeling good has become even more important since my surgery – especially on Sundays because Sunday is obviously the loosest that you want to feel.
Right before we go out for pre-game warmups I do a bunch of rehab to make sure my shoulders are intact, my knees are intact – whatever might be feeling a little off. A lot of guys like to get IVs going before the game. I take some Advil, aspirin, whatever I need, then go out for the pregame. You come back in and after sweating through your jersey and your pants and all your pads you start feeling a lot looser.
As soon as it’s time to head out for the game, then you’re on. It’s almost like you can’t feel anything it’s so much adrenaline. It’s hard to move, especially on opening day. So you just stay involved, keep chatting it up with your teammates and kind of come down a little bit. You’ve got to be able to be calm and think through a lot of things that are going to come at you, because odds are, in the beginning of the game there’s going to be something out there that you haven’t seen before on tape.
One thing I’ve realized over the years is that I’ve changed my way of looking at the NFL, too. You know, when you come into the league you want to work hard, want to make good money, want to be able to help your family and all of that. But I’ve noticed that these relationships – you never want to leave a bridge burned – especially with the type of guys we have in our locker room.
We have good guys, whether it’s somebody in competition with me trying to take my spot or somebody who you don’t even think is going to get on the team, you want to build those relationships because they’re going to help you out in the long run. So I just want to make sure these rookies get a good experience when they’re in the league, so I do my best to eliminate the kind of hazing aspects and try and be that mentor; be somebody to help them so they can say they had a great experience with this team even if don’t even make it one year in the league.
I remember the way I looked up to Orlando Pace for a long time. Getting on the same team that he was on, then wearing the same number was really big for me. Now I get the chance to talk to him, we have conversations about football, about life in general, and those things definitely helped me and help everyone no matter how old you get or how many years you’re in this league.
That’s why my turn to ascend to that leadership role is huge, and is combined with a bunch of things. Things like being smart, being physical, leading by example and just having good character traits to be able to help out your fellow teammates. All of those things collectively, along with my experience in the league, have made me a better player and have made me better prepared.