By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It's a foregone conclusion that quarterback Marc Bulger won't play in Thursday's preseason finale against Kansas City as he continues to mend from a broken little finger on his throwing hand.
But the regular-season opener Sept. 13 in Seattle is a different matter. When asked if he could say unequivocally that he'll play against the Seahawks, Bulger's reply Monday was a blunt "Yes."
He later added, "If we had a (regular-season) game tomorrow, I could play."
The fractured bone in Bulger's finger won't heal by the Seattle game, but that won't be an issue. If it's a matter of pain tolerance, Bulger said, "There's ways to get around that."
In other words, pain-killing medication.
"You don't want to do that too much," Bulger said. "(But) when the time comes, if there's still a pain issue, it won't be an issue."
Bulger broke the finger Aug. 17 taking a snap from center Jason Brown in practice.
"The first week, there was swelling," Bulger said. "I couldn't really bend my finger. But now, I can do everything. There's no pain unless, when I grip the ball and throw, there's a little bit. But it's improved a lot in the last 14 days."
Bulger threw from the side for the second day in a row Monday at Rams Park, increasing the number of throws and distance on those throws from Sunday's session. Quarterbacks coach Dick Curl and head athletic trainer Jim Anderson watched Bulger throw mostly tight spirals to equipment assistant Matt Taylor, who was about 15 yards away.
Later, Bulger threw short fade routes and out patterns to running backs Steven Jackson, Antonio Pittman and Chris Ogbonnaya. But that period consisted of only about a half-dozen throws, one of which was a wobbler.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo said Bulger threw 25 to 30 balls during practice. But Bulger still isn't taking any snaps under center.
"That's how we injured it, so I think we're just avoiding that exact movement for now, just to be extra safe," Bulger said. "We probably could take snaps now, but I think we're just erring on the cautious side with everything right now."
Bulger did take some shotgun snaps. And today, he may try to participate in practice drills with the rest of the offense.
"I'm kind of just going day to day right now," he said. "Every day, we're going to do a little more."
While the rest of the team receives a couple of days off following the Governor's Cup game against the Chiefs, Bulger plans to do additional throwing. He'll probably have more X-rays over the weekend as well. But since the bone wasn't displaced, just chipped, the X-rays are more for peace of mind. An X-ray taken about 10 days after the injury showed the "break's still there," Bulger said. But that was expected so soon after the injury.
On Sunday, Bulger threw with only the little finger taped. On Monday, his little finger and ring finger were taped together when he threw.
"Just to give it more support, because we (threw) a little bit further," Bulger said. "Probably again, it's just to be on the safe side. I threw with four fingers basically today."
When the Rams visit Seattle on Sept. 13, it will be nearly a month since Bulger's last game; he played three series in the preseason opener against the New York Jets, throwing four passes.
"That's a long stretch," Spagnuolo conceded. "I think you've always got to be concerned. But you are dealing with a guy that's played a lot of football. It'd be different if it was a first- or second-year guy. We'll just trust in his experience from the past."
Even if the finger heals to the point where it isn't a problem, there's always the risk that Bulger will be out of sync with the receiver corps after so much missed time. Spagnuolo thinks all the game-situation work the team does in practice has helped, and there will be more such work next week when Bulger is expected to return to full practice. But even Spagnuolo admits, "You lose a little bit there."
No matter what happens against Seattle, Bulger said there will be no excuses.
"I've been staying up with it mentally," he said. "I've even been doing more in meetings. (Strength coach) Rock (Gullickson) has my conditioning at a pretty good point now. You want to get as many reps as you can on the field, but I think I'll be ready."
Before the injury, Bulger estimated that he had taken part in 70 to 80 practices from the earliest spring minicamp through the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp.
"So I feel like I'm as far as I can be along," Bulger said.