By R.B. FALLSTROM

Associated Press


ST. LOUIS - There could be no more fitting site for the first game of Lovie Smith's NFL head coaching career - in St. Louis against the team for whom Smith was defensive coordinator the last three years.

"I was an assistant in the visitor's dressing room, I moved over to the other dressing room and now I'm coming back here," Smith said. "So I know quite a bit about that place and I'm just looking forward to bringing our team down to play."

But it's even more than that. Even though it won't count and starters won't play a lot for both teams, it's a milestone to which Smith has aspired to his entire life.

"Forty-six years to this spot, to say this is just another game for me personally, no, that's not the case," he said.

Smith, of course, is very familiar with the Rams, whom he helped reach the Super Bowl in 2001. He would have known their personnel anyway after the teams held joint practices and a scrimmage over three days last week in Macomb, Ill., the Rams' training camp site.

Only four days after the Saturday scrimmage, the teams will go at it again.

"If we keep score, we're always going to want to win," Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "We're going to get our adrenaline rushing."

Still, neither team is likely to stay with the starters very long. The Bears and Rams also played were cautious in their scrimmage in Macomb, mostly allowing the reserves to battle it out.

Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is scheduled to play one quarter, backup Jonathan Quinn will work the second quarter and the first series after halftime, and Craig Krenzel will finish.

For the Rams, Marc Bulger also is expected to get limited playing time ahead of Chris Chandler and rookie sixth-round pick Jeff Smoker.

Marshall Faulk, who sat out nearly all of last preseason, is unlikely to see much if any action. Instead, the Rams are likely to give heavy play to first-round pick Steven Jackson and Arlen Harris.

Jackson is the heir apparent to Faulk and has shown off his natural ability despite coaches' talk that he has been playing catchup after missing the minicamp in May because his class had not graduated. He also skipped a rookie camp just before training camp because he had not signed a contract.

"I don't want to brag, but I wasn't the first running back taken in the draft for no reason," Jackson said. "Once you get that ball in your hands, your natural ability just takes over and you just have to react to the defense.

"Once I learn my reads and how the plays are supposed to work, a lot of good things for me will happen."

Lamar Gordon, the backup tailback last year, underwent surgery on his left ankle Tuesday in St. Louis and is expected to be sidelined a month.

The Rams might have a makeshift offensive line throughout the preseason. One offensive tackle, Orlando Pace, is a contract holdout. The other, Kyle Turley, has been visiting several specialists after reinjuring his surgically-repaired back last week