By Jeff Gordon
ONLINE SPORTS COLUMNIST
10/26/2005


Medical concerns continue to dominate the news out at Rams Park.

Naturally, the players are concerned about coach Mike Martz and hopeful that he will regain his health while taking the rest of the season off.

“I love coach Martz, obviously,” defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. “He’s got to do what’s got to do to take care of his health. He made a decision that he needed to step away to make sure that he became healthy so he can live the rest of his life the way he wants to live it.”

And the team is also concerned about regaining its own health while preparing to play rock-solid Jacksonville at the Edward Jones Dome. A victory would even the team’s record at 4-4 heading into the bye week.

“It would be huge if we could get back to that starting point,” quarterback Jamie Martin said. “Start anew, and get our guys back.”

With the Martz issue resolved for now, the health (of lack thereof) of the team is the big story in Earth City. Several core players are still missing from action.

Quarterback Marc Bulger resumed throwing Monday; he missed the Saints game with a strained right shoulder. He is listed as questionable this week.

On Wednesday, Bulger continued his light throwing off to the side. “We’ll have to wait and see,” coach Joe Vitt said after the practice. “It’s ninety-six hours before the game starts.”

Martin continued preparing as if he will start his second consecutive game. It took him a while to settle into the Saints game and find his passing rhythm.

“Hopefully I’ll be ready to go from the start,” Martin said. “There are some things I can do better this week. Hopefully I will, with last week’s experience under my belt.”

Receiver Torry Holt missed the New Orleans game with his lingering knee injury. He reported that he was “making progress” as he passed through the locker room at lunchtime Wednesday.

But he watched Wednesday’s practice from the sidelines, too. He is listed as doubtful. “Right now it’s too early to tell,” Vitt said.

Receiver Isaac Bruce has been sidelined by a nasty case of turf toe; he has missed the last four games. He rode a stationary bike on the sidelines of Wednesday’s practice, then joined Holt on the sidelines, then rode the bike some more.

“We’ll make a determination on Isaac at the end of the week,” Vitt said. “Isaac keeps working and working and working to come back. He’s hoping. Believe me, he’ll be back just as soon as he can possibly do it.

“To return him now, this early, and lose him for the rest of the season could be fatal for us. Let’s get him better. When he’s better, it’s that much better for us.”

Cornerback Travis Fisher said he was “preparing to play” Sunday, despite his nagging groin muscle strain. But he, too, stayed off to the side Wednesday. He is listed as probable and will give it a go Thursday.

“Travis is better than he was at this time last week,” Vitt said.

Cornerback Chris Johnson is listed as questionable with his back injury. “His MRI was negative,” Vitt said.

These injuries forced rookie Ronald Bartell into the fray for the first time this season. “I want to play,” he said. “It’s been very tough on me. I fought through it. I’m going to keep fighting.”

Vitt raved about Bartell’s effort against the Saints. “It was fun, It did a lot for my confidence and the coaches’ confidence in me,” he said. “I already knew that, but I wanted the coaches to know that, that I was ready.

“It was a great experience. Now I have to put that behind me and just build on it.”

Starting left guard Claude Terrell spent Sunday night in a local hospital, recovering from a sprained neck. But he was back on the practice field Wednesday getting some work done; he is listed as probable for the game.

“He was pretty good,” Vitt said.

Defensive end Leonard Little missed Sunday’s game while mourning the shooting death of his brother. Vitt said Little would NOT be disciplined for remaining with family through the weekend and reiterated that Leonard wouldn’t play until he was mentally and physically ready.

Little wasn’t ready Wednesday because he wasn’t on the field with his teammates. “I talked to Leonard yesterday,” Vitt said. “Leonard is struggling. He is grieving right now.” There is no timetable to his return.

Brandon Green and Tyoka Jackson played bigger roles Sunday in his absence. “All of us had to do our job that much better,” Jackson said. “But there is nothing superhuman about it. Just do what you are supposed to do.”

Vitt summed up the predicament: “I told the team last week before the game, everybody is needed to win but no one is necessary. The next one has to step up and play.”