- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the music keeps playing, the St. Louis Rams offensive line continues to shuffle chairs.
After the leg injury to center Scott Wells, the Rams plugged Tim Barnes in at center last week against Arizona. But it was actually the return of a healthy lineman that created more movement than the loss of Wells.
Right guard Harvey Dahl returned to the mix last week after missing four games with a knee injury. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after Sunday’s loss to Arizona that in general his players don’t lose their starting job to injuries.
But Dahl’s return came with something of a quid pro quo. While he still started against the Cardinals, he found himself in a bit of a timeshare. Rodger Saffold, the converted tackle who filled in for Dahl, started back at right tackle but also split time with Dahl at right guard to keep Joe Barksdale, the usual right tackle, in the mix.
Got all that?
“We wanted to get Harvey an opportunity to play,” Fisher said. “He worked hard to come back. We also had Rodger play right tackle. I don’t believe Rodger came out of the game. Our plan was not to bring Rodger out of the game. It was to let him play, and so Rodger played right tackle and right guard.”
The approach was interesting, to say the least. Since the Rams made it a point to keep Saffold on the field the whole game -- he played all 54 offensive snaps -- they clearly believe he’s the best option out of the three players. In a bit of a football quirk, Dahl and Barksdale actually ended up playing exactly half the time with 27 snaps each.
But if we operate under the assumption that Saffold is the best option of the three since he never left the field, it’s strange to see him as the one who had to rotate.
Despite the constant movement, Saffold actually played quite well at both spots though after watching him at guard in the previous three games, that spot appears to be where he can be at his best.
Per usual, Saffold didn’t complain about all the moving around but did acknowledge that it’s not easy to go back and forth so much in a game.
“It’s just tough because you can’t really catch a rhythm,” Saffold said. “After I came in playing right tackle and then having to come in and play guard in the two-minute drill was kind of tough. … I basically try to do everything I can for the team. They asked me to do a job and I tried to do it to the best of my ability.”
In looking at the Arizona game, the Rams offensive line had its share of struggles but very few of those leaks seemed to spring from the right side, which would indicate the rotation actually worked out OK.
Fisher said Dahl didn’t play too bad for someone who hadn’t played in a month.
“It looked like it was his first week back,” Fisher said. “He didn’t play all the snaps. He did OK. I expect him to be better this week, but he played hard like he does. He was down field, was correct in everything that he did.”
As for Barnes at center, his performance was about what you’d expect from a young lineman making his first NFL start.
“Tim was good,” Fisher said. “He was challenged, but he knew what to do and how to do it. He was overmatched at times, but everybody is when you play that front. But, I thought by and large he did a good job in protections. He didn’t have any protection issues, those came outside.”
In the big picture, the Rams offensive line could undergo some major renovations this offseason. Saffold and left guard Chris Williams are scheduled for unrestricted free agency and Wells and Dahl are candidates to become cap casualties should the Rams need some extra money to spend.
Aside from Jake Long being set at left tackle, the Rams find themselves with decisions to make with the other 80 percent of the line. That leaves three games left for evaluation of the current group.
After watching Williams struggle against the Cardinals, it says here that plugging in Saffold at yet another position, this time left guard, and leaving him there would offer the best chance to win now but also take a look at the current group for the future.
A combination of Long and Saffold would put the team’s two best linemen next to each other. It would also give the Rams a chance to see Saffold more at the position where he looks to have the most upside.
“I think we’re just taking anything that happens and trying to go out and play to the best of our ability,” Saffold said. “You look at the grand scheme of things and these guys [on the right side] did an excellent job.”
Until a more definitive decision is made, Saffold and his teammates will keep switching chairs until the music finally stops.