By Howard Balzer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

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MEQUON, Wis. – If there was any significance to Rams contract negotiators Jay Zygmunt and Samir Suleiman not being in attendance at the final practice of the Wisconsin portion of training camp Wednesday, we should know fairly soon.


Both have been consistent attendees throughout camp, yet both had no presence at the afternoon workout that was cut short by a 30-minute downpour.


The key words when Zygmunt broke off negotiations with Eugene Parker, the agent for running back Steven Jackson, on July 25, were “training camp.” When Zygmunt was blind-sided by Jackson’s decision to boycott camp without a new contract, he said there would be no more talks until Jackson reported to “training camp.”


Well, officially, “training camp” is now over. Yes, there are still 80 players on the “training camp” roster. And yes, there are still two weeks of practice until the final cutdown to 53 players on Aug. 30.


But, two-a-days are now over. The team “breaks camp” and leaves for home today. That gives both Zygmunt and Jackson the perfect opportunity to extricate themselves from their public stance and get this done by the weekend.


Had Jackson reported to camp, he would have cashed his bonus check two weeks ago, at the latest. Had he been as professional as Eagles running back Brian Westbrook was, he would have his new deal already, and wouldn’t have alienated even more a portion of the public that already didn’t care for him, much less having added a fresh legion of fans that can’t figure out what he is up to.


Westbrook, in case you hadn’t heard, also changed agents just before training camp, and was seeking more money within the contract he was under, one that had three years remaining. But Westbrook reported to training camp, and he had his new deal on Aug. 8. That attitude was highlighted by Eagles president Joe Banner, who said, “There was never one single moment, privately, where there was any threat of, ‘I’m not playing in the game, I’m not coming to camp.’ We all knew the realities of what his options were. They couldn’t have been more positive and professional throughout the whole thing. All of us knew, ‘Let’s get this done as quickly as we can, and certainly let’s get this done before we’re going to ask him to go out and play a game.’


“This is a premier guy, leader, player. What he has done over the last few weeks here with this going on and still working; he came out there when he had strep throat and practiced. He just wants to win so badly. He wants the team to be the best it can be. That’s what drove him, it’s what has always driven him.”


Meanwhile, with Jackson, we hear rumblings once again that he’s not happy with his agent. The reality is, Steven Jackson will be an extremely wealthy man when this is over. But the longer it lingers, the more he will be under the microscope for everything he does or says, especially if he would happen to suffer an injury after signing.


That’s why this weekend is so important. The Rams don’t practice again until Monday. Camp is over. The two sides are within striking distance. It’s up to Zygmunt to pick up the phone and say, “Let’s talk.” Then, it’s up to Jackson to show up for the team’s walk-through tomorrow, even if it’s just to stand on the sideline.


The contract could then be finalized in time for the game, or at the latest by Monday.


Coach Scott Linehan sounded somewhat optimistic when he was asked Wednesday about Zygmunt and Suleiman’s absence from practice. “This is a pretty obvious break in the action,” Linehan said. “It’s time to collect our thoughts. I’ll meet with Jay tomorrow (Thursday) to see where we’re at. I’m hoping for the best. I know it will work out soon.”


He certainly hopes so.


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Linehan has no doubts the organization accomplished what it wanted by spending three weeks out of town.


“I know we did,” he said. “The only proof is how it pays off in the end. But I know much more about our team now. We’ve been around each other for 21 days. That’s the way you get to know people, new people, everyone. It’s been outstanding. I know the players worked extremely hard, and I know we’re a lot better football team than we were 21 days ago when we started this thing.”


ROOKIES IMPRESSIVE

To a man, veterans and rookies raved about the show the team’s rookies put on Wednesday night. All in good fun, rookies put together skits at the end of camp each summer in which no veterans or coaches are safe.


Linebacker Will Witherspoon felt the brunt of jokes. Linebacker Marc Magro, who somewhat resembles defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, did a great Haslett.


Some coaches, who have been around the game for decades, said it was the best rookie show they’ve ever seen.


A HEAD-SCRATCHER

*After officially signing defensive back Tanard Davis Wednesday, the Rams made an odd move by waiving defensive tackle Vernon Bryant, rather than placing cornerback Justin King on injured reserve. That move left the team with 11 defensive linemen, but only five pure defensive tackles.


Following frequent comments about the difficulty of roster management this summer because of the “hard” 80-man roster, why would the Rams cut a healthy player and keep an injured one on the roster when it has been said he will miss the entire season?


Linehan said the team didn’t want to expose King to other teams by waiving him injured, but they wouldn’t have to if they just put him directly on injured reserve.


It’s possible the Rams are waiting for King’s toe surgery Friday to see if the injury is actually season-ending. But, if that’s the case, why not simply say it?


SIMPLY NOTING

*The final practice was cut short by about 25 minutes because of the rain, but the final half hour was conducted in the downpour. “It might be stormy sometime (during the season),” Linehan said. “You have to keep playing.”


*Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, who lives in Chicago, visited camp Wednesday. Hendricks makes a trip each year to the camp where the previous year’s winner of the Ted Hendricks Award is playing. Last season’s winner of the award given to college football’s best defensive end was Chris Long.


*Chris Draft was back with the first unit at strong-side linebacker Wednesday, but Linehan insisted he and Quinton Culberson will both play a lot this season, depending on situations, matchups or the team the Rams are playing. “The way I look at it, we have four starting linebackers,” Linehan said.


*Still on the sideline are cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder), safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring), Eric Bassey (neck) and Jerome Carter (groin), tackle Brandon Gorin (shoulder) and tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring). Brown was injured in the first practice of training camp and hasn’t been on the field since. Meanwhile, international practice squad safety Sebastian Sejean has been on the field with the second unit in practice because of the limited safety numbers.


*Home Sweet Home: Back on the road today for the drive home, the longest I can remember ever being away in one stretch. It was great to be in Mequon, Canton and Nashville, but even better to get home on my son’s first day in seventh grade. It looks, however, like the trusty odometer will fall just short of 3,000 miles total. That’s a lot of gas!