Thursday, October 20, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Marc Bulger arrived to Rams Park on Thursday afternoon armed with a little bit of bad news and a little bit of good news.

The bad news is that, even though Bulger is listed as questionable on the official injury report, it doesn’t look like he will play this week after suffering a sprain in the AC joint of his right shoulder against the Colts on Monday night.

There were some holding out a glimmer of hope that Bulger might be ready to go this weekend against the Saints at the Edward Jones Dome, including Bulger himself, who said he might try to resume throwing this week after taking a cortisone shot Wednesday afternoon.

“Possibly,” Bulger said. “Obviously today with taking the shot yesterday, it’s a little sore and we want to give it a day or two to get in the joint and see what happens. I think we’ll know a lot more tomorrow.”

But coach Joe Vitt said that might be a little too optimistic. When asked if there was a chance for Bulger to play this weekend, Vitt responded with a simple “no.”

Although that isn’t good news for a team that has grown to rely so much on Bulger, especially against the Saints after he almost pulled the Rams to a miracle comeback against them last year, there was plenty of good news about Bulger’s shoulder.

At first glance, it appeared that Bulger’s shoulder injury was identical to the one he suffered Dec. 5, 2004 against San Francisco at the Edward Jones Dome. That injury was a similar sprain, but was compounded by a bone bruise, making it difficult for Bulger to throw.

Bulger missed the next two games, games the Rams lost by wide margins with replacement Chris Chandler at the helm. Bulger had an MRI on the shoulder Tuesday and it revealed that this injury is actually not quite as serious as that one.

“I don’t think it’s as bad on the MRI,” Bulger said. There’s no bone bruise which is good. There was just swelling in the joint. I don’t think it will be quite as bad as last year.”

In fact, the injury appears to be much easier on Bulger than the one suffered almost a year ago. Bulger’s range of motion is better already, though he struggles with the pain when he has to do anything that puts strain on the shoulder, like say, throwing a football.

While it appears Bulger won’t play this weekend, he doesn’t seem to think that next week’s game against Jacksonville is out of the question.

“Obviously you want to come back as quick as possible,” Bulger said. “The bye week is going to help. Whether it’s this week or next week, there is no way it will go longer than after the bye week. Worst case scenario would be it will be this week and next week (that I miss).”

Bulger actually suffered a shoulder sprain twice last season, including one against Miami the week before the bye. That bye week enabled Bulger to recover quickly so that he missed no time and he returned against New England.

After watching the Rams struggle mightily in his absence against Carolina and Arizona following the San Francisco game, Bulger might even have come back quicker than he should have to try to help the Rams reach the playoffs.

St. Louis did end up making the playoffs, mainly on the strength of Bulger’s huge performance against the Jets in the regular season finale. But the recurrence of this shoulder injury has to be something that concerns the Rams and Bulger for the future.

“I talked to Dr. (Matt) Matava about that and he said that eventually there could be some arthritis,” Bulger said. “They told me Jim Edmonds and a couple of other guys had some surgeries that just take a little bit of the collarbone off. It’s not something that’s going to make it be more recurring just because it’s in the same place. It’s not like a shoulder separation where you are more likely to have it because of that. Everything is pretty stable.”

With Bulger out this week, Jamie Martin is handling the role of starting quarterback. Martin, of course, has spent most of his career with the Rams. He is in his 11th year in the NFL and seventh with the Rams, meaning he has no shortage of experience and knowledge of the Rams’ system.

Martin replaced Bulger against the Colts on Monday night and fared OK, but threw a pair of interceptions on passes that he admittedly shouldn’t have thrown. Martin was put in a tough spot in that game, though.

As the backup, Martin rarely gets practice repetitions with the first-team offense and hadn’t had any since the preseason. That kind of time with the top unit is extremely valuable and Martin believes his time with the first-team Monday night and the extra reps in practice should help him fare better this week.

“It helps in a lot of ways,” Martin said. “As a backup you are always uncertain as to if you really know what’s going on because it’s kind of learning on paper. When you are able to do it throughout the week you have a little bit more confidence in the things you’re seeing and the things you’re trying to do.”

Martin will be making his fourth start in the NFL and first since 2002 when he started a pair of games for the Rams. In his trio of starts Martin has yet to earn a victory, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of leading this team.

On Dec. 30 of that year, Martin entered the game against the ***** and helped the Rams to a stunning comeback win by throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns on their way to a 28-point fourth quarter.

Every veteran Ram has enough confidence in what Martin can do to feel fine about what he is capable of. Still, there are a few kinks that will need to be worked out in practice.

Receiver Torry Holt said getting the timing of routes down is the most important thing right now.

“I was thinking in the meeting room today I know I am going to ask him to stay after practice and maybe catch some quick things with him just so he can get a rhythm and I can continue to get more of a rhythm with him,” Holt said. “Hopefully some of the other guys will do that. In practice, we will try to be as precise and efficient as we possibly can to give him the proper look that he needs so when he goes out there on Sunday things won’t look any different. We are not going to do anything very uncharacteristic. We are just going to continue to play hard, practice fast and hopefully he can catch up in this quick timeframe.”

Martin has too much experience to let anything bother him and he isn’t about to let the two interceptions he threw against the Colts carry over. After all, he has a job to do this week.

“I wasn’t rattled,” Martin said. “I felt like I was seeing things and executed pretty well. There were a couple mistakes, obviously that I can’t have. I know what happened on those plays and hopefully it won’t happen again.

“It’s fun being out there. Coming back this year and playing I am just having a lot of fun. I have a new perspective on things and I’m just trying to go out there and execute and have fun.”

The offense might also get a boost in the form of rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, who displayed the ability to make plays on the run in the preseason and has the kind of moxie that could one day make him a big-time quarterback in the NFL.
Fitzpatrick actually worked in some with the “ones” during Thursday’s practice and Vitt said Tuesday that it’s possible to get some simple packages in the offense for the man that is now No. 2.