Chris Steuber: In talking with a number of scouts recently, they came away from the East-West Shrine game most impressed with your abilities and feel that your draft stock is on the rise. How do you view your experience at the East-West Shrine Game?
Rodger Saffold: It was a totally different experience being at an All-Star game. When I played in a game back in high school, we just loved to play, and there were no scouts around. At the Shrine game, there was some added pressure, but it was still the same concept. I just wanted to have a good time. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience a bowl game, but this was something that you get amped to do. It also made me feel good to play with people who are highly touted and give you a lot of competition. It was a great experience.
What’s your nickname: Big Rodge.
CS: The competition at the Shrine game wasn’t all that bad this year. Was there a defensive end that caused you fits during that week?
Saffold: The two ends that I faced all week were Rahim Alem (LSU) and Greg Hardy (Ole Miss). Hardy has the quickness and the power, and Alem has all of the moves and speed; you have to move back on him and stand strong. They’re both really good, and it was a battle every single day.
CS: A defensive end that you’re familiar with is Michigan’s Brandon Graham. He was the talk of the Senior Bowl, just as you were the talk of the Shrine game. How do you view Graham, and what kind of player do you think he will be at the next level?
Saffold: Graham was a good player; we had our games and it was always a battle. He is going to continue to do well. I think people like him and people like [Adrian] Clayborn (Iowa) really standout. I also know this is a big draft year for defensive linemen, so I don’t know where he stands.
CS: What type of defensive end do you prefer to line up against, a speed rusher or a big, physical end?
Saffold: I really don’t look for an either or. The strong guys want to fight you early, which could be helpful so the quarterback can get the ball out. The speed rushers love to run around the hump, so sometimes you can just guide them and the quarterback can just step up and throw. It just depends on who you’re going against. But the worst person to go against is a player that’s big and fast. You have to adjust to everything: the inside move, the outside move, rips, swims, everything. They have the ability to be dominant and you have to be ready to battle.
CS: Was there a guy that you faced during your career that had all of those qualities and could take over a game?
Saffold: I haven’t really seen a guy who has that awesome speed and true man strength. But a guy I believe to be like that is Dwight Freeney. He has spin moves that are like the speed of light; sometimes you can miss his moves if you blink. He’s also got that power. He’s a strong guy. Those types of players in the NFL, you have to prepare for them, because in college you’re not going to see that too often.
CS: Obviously the East-West Shrine Game is a lesser showcase than the Senior Bowl. Were you at all disappointed not being invited to the Senior Bowl?
Saffold: [Pause]… At first, it was discouraging, because I love competition, so being able to play in the Senior Bowl would have been huge. It wasn’t really that bad, I ended up receiving my invitation to the Senior Bowl late, but I had some things that I had to do with school, because I’m trying to graduate. I’m continually going back to Indiana and making sure I get my degree, so I have a backup plan.
CS: During your time at the Shrine game, I’m sure you met with a number of teams. What teams did you meet with and were there teams that showed more interest in you than others?
Saffold: I basically talked with every team; they want to get your information, see what you can do on the field and critique you from those standpoints. The teams that showed the most interest in me were the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. There were a bunch of other teams I spoke with; it was just a pleasure to talk with every team, because they tell you what you should work on. It wasn’t a situation where they’re telling me, ‘Oh, man we love you so much.’ It was more like, ‘Hey, what can you do for us?’ And that’s something that you really have to think about and give them your answer on the spot; you have to be truthful. I’m an outgoing person, so I was able to do that easily. I told them who I was and they were very cordial to me as well.
CS: In those conversations with the teams, what did they say that you had to work on specifically and what aspects of your game do they like already?
Saffold: They like my athleticism; that I can move my feet, as well as recover. Of course they want me to continue to try and finish every block, which they want to see from every lineman. Finishing blocks is something you always have to work on. Also, they want to see better hand placement, not just from me, but from everyone, especially in the passing game. They want you in the right position at all times, that’s always critical, and they want you to be mentally prepared for the task at hand. Overall, the conversations were basic, but I expect a much deeper evaluation at the [Scouting] Combine.
CS: Other than the things they liked and didn’t like about your game, were the questions primarily background checks or was there some chalk talk involved?
Saffold: They did some background checks. They didn’t exactly want chalk talk, but they wanted me to explain the different fronts I’ve gone against. They wanted to know what I was looking for in different situations. For instance, if there was a safety coming over the top that pretty much means that the cornerback will try and jam the receiver on the line, or the corner is going to come inside for a blitz. Also, being able to look at the linebackers and see where they’re rolling out; that’s big for an offensive linemen to see, because that can change your mentality in protection, and it’s something you can let everyone know about so we’re all on the same page. Locating the linebacker is also crucial for the quarterback, so he can make good decisions throwing the ball. That was the kind of questioning I received; they wanted to test my football IQ.
CS: That’s chalk talk type of questioning right there. What teams engaged in those conversations with you, because at games like the East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl, most of the discussion is generally background checks.
Saffold: I remember that the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, the Buccaneers; almost every team wants you to explain that stuff. They want to test your mental capacity and make sure that you can do your job and do it well. They already know what you’ve been doing and what you need to do, so it comes down to you being able to tell them what you’re doing and if you are telling the truth.
CS: This is a solid offensive tackle class, which is led by follow seniors, Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and Oklahoma’s Trent Williams. Behind Okung and Williams, there are two juniors, Anthony Davis (Rutgers) and Bryan Bulaga. Obviously, teams want a talented lineman who can play immediately, and with you being a four-year starter, do you think scouts have a great appreciation for you, and did that help you during interviews at the Shrine game?
Saffold: They told me that being a four-year starter is a good place to start out with, but they also said that it’s going to be more difficult at the next level reading coverages, understanding where the quarterback is going to go with the ball, where his launching point is and how you can attack the defensive linemen based on that point. Even though I have experience, I realize there’s going to be a lot of mental points to learn, which is going to be big heading into a training camp. I know that I have to learn to adapt, and I have to adapt fast.
CS: Each year, the strength of the NFL Draft is determined by the quality of underclassmen that declare. As I mentioned, there are two premier junior tackles that will likely be top 15 picks, and a third (Maryland’s Bruce Campbell) who will intrigue teams at the end of the first round. With their presence in the draft they take precedence over talented seniors, including yourself. Did you look at the underclassmen list when it was made official, and does their presence motivate or discourage you?
Saffold: Oh, that’s just more motivation. There are really talented guys out there and when juniors come out, most of them have been playing for four years. But there are circumstances where you’re dealing with just a freak athlete. There are guys like that who declared this year, but I can’t really worry about who comes out, I have to get my foot in the door first. If I start worrying about my competition and a team’s draft board, that’s when I’ll start to slip up and lose focus.
CS: Speaking of the draft board, have any scouts mentioned to you where you may be on their boards at this time?
Saffold: I’ve gotten mixed reviews; some has been from scouts, as well as guys like yourself. There are things all over the media about me being a second, third or even a fourth round pick. I’ve even heard that I could go in the late first round. It doesn’t really matter to me where I go in the draft, obviously I’d like to go as high as possible to be able to support my family, but I just want to play.
CS: How do you think the interview process is going to differ from the Shrine game to what you’re going to face at the Scouting Combine?
Saffold: I think they’re going to be much more intense. The Shrine game makes things a little easier, because I got to talk with teams and it gave me some experience with the scouts. But I also know at the Combine the questions are going to be much more involved, and the answers have to be more detailed. I just want to be honest in that setting, because they already know the answers to the questions they’re asking, they just want to hear the truth. [Laughs.]
CS: As you continue to train, and with the Combine approaching, what are you specifically working on to showcase your skills?
Saffold: I’m working on my technique and trying to improve all of my times. I want to continue to show that my athleticism can really save me in bad situations, and it allows me to recover from any type of move that’s laid in front of me. I want to continue to prove that I can make adjustments and that I know the person I’m going against so I can set myself up better in games. And, show that I can perform under pressure, because it’s overwhelming pressure at the Combine.
CS: I know you’re a huge Cleveland Browns fan, and wearing that Browns uniform would probably be a dream come true. After a long day of training, have you had a chance to sit back and envision how draft day could unfold?
Saffold: Actually, after a long, hard day, I just think about what I have to do tomorrow to get better. That’s pretty much what I look at. The draft is going to come, and I know that’s something I don’t have control over. At the moment, I can only control what’s going to happen at the Combine, my Pro Day and my interviews and psychological test. Other than that, there isn’t much I can do, and where I get drafted is out of my hands.
CS: The draft will follow a new structure this year with the first round being aired on Thursday night, the second and third rounds on Friday night and the remaining rounds taking place on Saturday afternoon. What are your feelings on the new draft setup?
Saffold: The draft is exciting to begin with; it doesn’t matter what day it’s on. It could be on a Monday and every one would be glued to the TV. I know that half of my community probably won’t even be at work. On draft day in the past, I was either sick, or I just wouldn’t do anything; I was in front of the tube watching it all the way through the seventh round. I always look forward to draft day.
CS: But now that you’re in the draft, does the split schedule make it more nerve wracking considering there’s a chance you may have to wait two full days until you actually hear your name called?
Saffold: [Laughs.]… It could make me crazy, that’s for sure. I may even lose my mind waiting for my name to be called. But I’m not at that point yet. Ask me after the draft, and I’ll definitely tell you how I felt.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.