By Jim Thomas
Monday, Aug. 20 2007

By now, Scott Linehan was hoping for some separation at center. But midway
through the exhibition season, it remains a toss-up between Andy McCollum and
Brett Romberg for the starting job.

"We haven't come to a conclusion yet," Linehan said Sunday. "We still feel very
comfortable with both. ... It's still too close to call."

To date, McCollum and Romberg have each started a game against a Pro Bowl
defensive tackle named Williams. On Saturday, McCollum played against San
Diego's Jamal Williams for three series with the Rams' first-team offense. A
week earlier, Romberg played against Minnesota's Pat Williams for two series
with the starting unit.

Neither center had what appeared to be an obvious breakdown. In both games, the
starting offense moved the ball fairly well but did not score.

"The difference right now is so subtle," Linehan said. "The hard decision we're
going to have to make is what's best for that entire group in there, and what's
best down the road as well."

On Sunday, Linehan wouldn't even commit to a starter in this week's exhibition
game against Oakland. But he hinted that Romberg would get the start, an
important assignment because the third preseason contest is normally the game
in which the starters play the most.

At age 37, McCollum is the oldest player on the roster and has been the Rams'
starting center for most of this decade. When he suffered a season-ending knee
injury in the 2006 opener against Denver, it was widely assumed that his days
as a starter were over — if not his career. But McCollum has made a strong
recovery, clouding the picture at center.

"The guy came back like a warrior," Romberg said. "He looks like he's doing
really well. He looks young. He's moving around. I hope that's a testament to
me just pushing (for the job). I know that the coaches are getting the best out
of both of us — I know that."

Ten years younger than McCollum, Romberg says the competition has been civil.

"There's no tire gouging," Romberg joked. "There's no legs getting stuck out
there purposely. He's very professional. I'm trying to handle it as
professionally as I possibly can. I guess the best guy's going to start."

While McCollum has 144 regular-season and seven postseason starts on his NFL
résumé, Romberg spent his first three NFL seasons bouncing between
Jacksonville's practice squad and active roster. After signing with the Rams
last September, Romberg made his first NFL starts in the final three games of
the season, all victories in which the Rams ran the ball well. For the first
time as an NFL player, Romberg entered training camp not having to worry about
just making the roster.

"Competing for a starting position has been awesome for me," he said. "I'm
embracing it."

Romberg weighed a mere 279 pounds when he joined the Rams 11 months ago. But he
has put on 20 pounds since then and has gotten stronger. For his part, McCollum
has approached his 14th NFL season like all the others.

"Even in the past, I haven't been one of those guys like Torry (Holt) or
Orlando (Pace) or somebody who's guaranteed a spot," McCollum said. "You've got
to earn your job every year. You've got to make sure you show that you're the
guy who belongs out there. So that's what I plan on doing again."

The combination of not playing most of last season, plus doing tons of rehab
work, has left McCollum's legs and knees as strong as ever. During practices,
he and Romberg have split repetitions down the middle.

Even though Romberg is gunning for his job, McCollum has tried to help the
younger player whenever possible.

"If there's anything that I've seen before that I can help him with, I will,"
McCollum said. "Just because I've seen that in the past, when I was a younger
guy, that guys did help me. And I've seen other guys who didn't try to help
you. I don't want to be that guy."