Faulk faces many questions
By Jim Thomas

Of the Post-Dispatch

MACOMB, Ill. - How much does he have left?

How's the right knee?

Is he about to retire?

Rams running back Marshall Faulk has heard the questions. He's not sure of the answers himself.
"Those are good questions," Faulk said. "It's things people should ask. Those are the things that are going to be answered this year. I feel up to the challenge, and we'll find out. As the season goes on, you guys will find out also."

So how is the knee?

"I don't know," Faulk said. "I practiced (Wednesday). I looked at (practice) film, and it looked pretty good. Of course, I'm critical about a lot of things that I do. But I felt pretty good about what I did and how my body responded."

Faulk, 31, had another surgery on the knee during the offseason, fueling rumors that he would retire rather than play the 2004 season. But those rumors were unfounded.

"I heard about it," Faulk said. "And it was news to me."

Faulk wouldn't be here at Western Illinois University if he were contemplating retirement. Macomb, after all, isn't high on his list of summer "vacation" spots.

"I love football," Faulk said. "I think that it's in me. I was given a gift to play this game. Not just a physical gift, but a mental gift to understand it. It's not all that I have. But it's something that I have that I love doing, and I have a passion for it."

It's just that his passion is always tested in Macomb.

"It's always at its all-time low at training camp," Faulk said, only half-jokingly. "And it's always high once training camp's over."

The continuing knee problems have at least prompted him to think about retiring, albeit down the road.

"This is probably the first year that I've thought, 'Man, if the body isn't acting right, what do I do?' " Faulk said. "Do I fight through it? Or do I not play?

"That's something that I'm going to have to evaluate at the end of the season similar to what Aeneas (Williams) does."

For the last several offseasons, Williams, 36, has re-evaluated whether he wants to continue playing. During the offseason Faulk talked to his agent, Rocky Arceneaux, about possibly playing only another year or two.

After playing at such a high level for most of the past decade, Faulk's body might simply tell him that he no longer can play. That will influence the thought process on retiring.

"It'll be that," Faulk said, "and if I can accept a lesser role - if that becomes the issue. Or if the situation here dictates that I can't be here any longer. So it's a lot of things that factor in with that decision, and that's just being honest."

Faulk sidestepped a question about Steven Jackson's presence on the roster, as if deftly avoiding a hard-charging linebacker.

"That question is kind of a double-edged question," he said. "Having Lamar (Gordon) here is just as good. Having guys behind me that are youthful, and that I can pass some information along to is good.

"Hopefully one day, whether here or on another team, they can step in and be the guy. They can look back on some of the things that I told them about playing the game, and what you've got to do to have a great career."

But for now, as he embarks on his 11th NFL training camp, Faulk truly is living in the moment.

"I'm just day-to-day with everything," he said. "How I feel. How my body feels. And just letting it tell me, 'Hey, you need to take the next day off.' Or, 'You can go maybe up to this day.' I have to listen to it. It doesn't listen to me."

So that makes this a different type of training camp for Faulk.

"Preparation to play football is always a necessity," he said. "But I think I've got to just find a way to take care of myself, and get out of here without anything bothering me, so I can make it through the season."

That's why Faulk's practice repetitions in Macomb will be closely watched and highly limited. More than ever, the idea is to get Faulk to September - and beyond - as healthy as possible, even if it means keeping him in mothballs for the rest of July and most of August. But as far as wide receiver Torry Holt is concerned, it's a plus to simply see Faulk on the practice field in Macomb. Even if he's just watching.

"That puts a smile on our face," Holt said. "That gives us a tremendous amount of confidence that he's going to be ready to roll once the season starts."

Faulk reported Tuesday at about 210 pounds - his normal playing weight. Last year, in an ill-fated attempt to bulk up, he reported at 225.

"Last year, I had never played at that weight," Faulk said. "But my knee (injury) didn't happen because of my weight. Something happened. I got hurt, and that was just it."

This week, Martz took the blame for suggesting that Faulk report at the heavier weight in '03.

Whether it was (Martz's idea), or whether it wasn't, it was a mutual agreement to give something a shot," Faulk said. "I gave it a shot, and it didn't work too well."