By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, May. 22 2007
Perhaps no one took it harder last season when injury struck down Rams left
tackle Orlando Pace than he and wife Carla's four children. Not that they were
worried so much about Dad; it was the loss of their annual Hawaiian vacation
that saddened young Justin, Jalen, Landon and Kendall.
"Yeah, my kids were a little upset about that. I missed it, too," Pace said,
smiling. "Hopefully we can get back and make that trip again."
Pace had spent part of the last seven Februarys in Honolulu, site of the Pro
Bowl. But his reign as an NFL all-star was ripped away Nov. 12 in Seattle when
the triceps muscle was ripped away from the bone in his upper left arm.
He was hurt taking on defensive end Grant Wistrom, a former Rams teammate, on a
routine pass-blocking play. Five days later, Pace underwent surgery, and he
spent the next two months with his arm encased in a bulky brace.
Pace is taking it slowly during spring workouts, participating in walk-through
drills but avoiding contact. He said the doctors have told him that he should
be 100 percent by the time training camp begins in late July.
"This is kind of uncharted territory for me, and it's difficult," Pace said.
"They just told me to be patient, be smart about it."
The No. 1 overall selection in the 1997 draft, Pace never missed a game because
of injury at Ohio State and had sat out just seven times since becoming the
Rams' full-time starter in '98. The longest he'd been out was three games.
Spending the final seven games on the sideline last year hurt almost as much as
the painful rehab that Pace has endured the last few months.
"That's probably the first time in my life somebody's telling you you're not
well enough to play football," said Pace, who turned 31 two days after he was
injured. "It was just hard going to the games and watching ... really rough."
The Rams dropped three of their next four games following Pace's injury, but
closed with victories over Oakland, Washington and Minnesota to wind up 8-8.
Todd Steussie finished the season at left tackle, and with veterans Andy
McCollum (knee) and Adam Timmerman (ribs) also out, youngsters Mark
Setterstrom, Brett Romberg, Richie Incognito and Alex Barron filled out the
rest of the offensive line.
Pace said their impressive play had re-energized him.
"I think the most exciting part about having those young guys step up like that
is that it builds depth on our offensive line," he said. "The coaches trust
those guys because they have game experience. ... They have confidence in those
Timmerman, 35, was released after the season. McCollum, 36, will battle
Romberg, 27, for the starting job at center after missing all but the first 1½
quarters last year. Incognito, 23, appears secure at right guard, as does
Barron, 24, at right tackle. Setterstrom, 23, was a seventh-round draft pick
last year who "is penciled in at left guard," coach Scott Linehan said. "But
he's got to hold his spot."
The soft-spoken Pace acknowledged that with such a youthful unit, he needs to
become more of a guiding force.
"I'm not a real vocal guy; I like to lead by example," he said. "Just being one
of the older guys here now, I take that approach as a leader on the offensive
line. ... I look forward to helping the guys."
Pace filled a similar role while out last year. He did a lot of sideline
counseling and even joined the linemen for some advice as they huddled before
starting a possession.
"A lot of guys come to me and ask me questions," he said. "With my experience,
if I can share some things that I see that they're doing that can help our
team, I'm always there for that."
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Of course, if Pace is to be a leader for the group, he has be a part of it. His
first priority is to get himself fully armed — pun intended — for the rugged
conflict in the trenches. The injury, he pointed out, was "pretty serious,
because I do so much hitting and punching with the arms. But it's coming along
"Some days you want to jump out there and get in the mix," he said. "But I
don't want to start hitting people and get banged up. ... You've just got to be
patient and let the muscle heal. The most important part is to be ready for the
A season, Pace stressed, that can't arrive soon enough. Last year's forced
hiatus "made me hungrier," he said.
Even though he's limited on the field, Pace has been present for all the
offseason sessions. For several years, he missed virtually all the team's
offseason work because of contract disputes. But after signing a seven-year,
$52.8 million contract in 2005, he's embraced the significance of cultivating
strong camaraderie in the run-up to the season.
"These workouts are really important. Even though they're voluntary, you get a
sense of togetherness," he said. "And the quicker you can build your team with
the new guys that are here, the better your team will be once the season
starts. ... We've become a close group, and that can only help us during the
What could help more than anything, Linehan noted, is the return of a healthy
and dominating Pace.
"I thought our team responded well at the loss of Orlando last year. But you
can't replace the guy; he's a Hall of Fame offensive tackle one day, one of the
best the game's ever seen," Linehan said. "Having him back is a big shot in the
arm for us."
No pun intended.
Quarterback Drew Tate, an undrafted rookie from Iowa, has been released. Tate
became expendable when the Rams signed another quarterback, Brock Berlin, last
week. ... Optional workouts resume today. The full-squad minicamp is June 11-13.