NASHVILLE – Rodger Saffold had options when he became a free agent after the 2018 season.
The veteran offensive lineman had just played in a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams, and part of his mission was to find a good match with a contender.
He ended up signing with the Titans, and he still remembers the reaction from some.
"People thought I was crazy for coming to the Titans," he said, before adding: "But look at us now."
Heading into his 11th NFL season, Saffold is as hungry as ever.
After his Rams lost in Super Bowl LIII to the Patriots, during his first season in Tennessee Saffold was part of playoff wins at New England and Baltimore before experiencing an AFC Championship loss at Kansas City. As a result, the Titans finished one win short of making it to the Super Bowl in Miami.
Saffold started all 19 games at left guard in 2019, including the three playoff contests.
He has a Super Bowl-or-bust mindset heading into 2020.
"My passion for that is through the roof," Saffold said during a Zoom call on Thursday. "After going to the Super Bowl and then realizing that we were one game from getting into the (Super Bowl) with the Titans, I was really driven. My entire focus was driven to getting back to the Super Bowl. Total complete confidence in myself and my teammates, and basically what can I do to get us there again. This time we know having a slow start won't help us at all.
"We really had to gut-wrench through the season to get everything back the right way. For us now, I think that now that we know our capabilities, having that fast start is always in the back of our minds. But we're not putting any pressure on us. We know that hard work is what got us there. For me, I constantly – even the day after our loss in the Super Bowl, all I thought about was getting back. People thought I was crazy for coming to the Titans, but look at us now. I have nothing but confidence in my team and I can't wait to get back in that position again."
Saffold struggled at the start in 2019.
In fact, following a Week 5 loss to the Bills, he stood at his locker and beat himself up after allowing multiple sacks in multiple games early last season. He blamed poor technique, and a new scheme, for his issues in Tennessee after playing his first nine NFL seasons with the Rams.
"I feel like I am letting my team down at this point," Saffold said at the time. "I am not used to having this type of frustration. … I am not going to blame anybody on my team – my players, my coaches. I am just going to have to find a way to get connected with this team and be able to get in rhythm with the team.
"At the end of the day, even though we all make mistakes, we always talk about how you have to be critical of yourself and that is one thing that I definitely take to heart. The only thing that I can do is come in here and try to be the same guy without being too down."
Saffold ending up settling down, and settling in.
He was part of an offensive line that paved the way for running back Derrick Henry to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,509 yards, and while the group allowed too many sacks of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill, it showed improvement in the second half of the season, and during the playoffs.
Tannehill made it to the Pro Bowl as he led the NFL in passer rating.
And Saffold found his footing.
"There was definitely an adjustment last season just with everything being new," Saffold said. "I think that just having that perseverance to just keep working through it and then start meshing with the offensive line, it allowed us a lot of success toward the end of the year. I really like the mentality, the direction that we're kind of going into next year. I think that we should expect to be on the same plane. Just continue from last season, but always challenging ourselves to be better than before.
"As far as for myself, (I now have a better understanding of the) kind of the concepts that the coaches are looking for. Kind of the way that they want us to handle certain types of protections, the techniques. We started to figure that out better and better as the season went on and now it's kind of second nature. The fact that they can tell me something and I can regurgitate that back to them the way that they see it is really helpful. Kind of understanding plays and understanding technique. Now I have a better grasp of that, so it's going to help me in the future, especially in the future."
Titans Online looks back at guard Rodger Saffold's 2019 season (Photos: Donald Page)