Tuesday, August 15, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

If the Rams are to become the physically dominant type of team that coach Scott Linehan desires, guard Richie Incognito is going to be one of the keys to that development.

After a year-long wait for the Rams and almost a two and a half year wait for Incognito, he finally stepped back on to the field last week in the preseason opener as the team’s starting left guard.

It was a good feeling for Incognito after a long wait.

“That was great," Incognito said. “(It was) just high tempo, bodies flying around everywhere. The speed of the game is definitely a lot different than college.”

Incognito seemed unaffected by the pace of the game as he didn’t wait long to make an impression. On the Rams’ first play from scrimmage, Linehan called for a run up the middle for back Steven Jackson.

Incognito demolished his man and fullback Paul Smith cleared his guy out of the way and Jackson took off for a 16-yard gain. That set the tone for a big running game and also for Incognito’s first game action since the Alamo Bowl in 2003.

“That's how I set my tempo,” Incognito said. “I go out and try to lay the wood on the first play, and set the tempo and say, 'That's how it's going to be all day long.”’

Despite battling an illness and a toe infection, Incognito has done more than enough to impress teammates and coaches alike. Not only did he arrive at camp in excellent shape, but he has endeared himself to his linemates by learning the nuances of the game.

No matter if he is taking pass blocking pointers from left tackle Orlando Pace or learning the fine art of keeping his jersey flap up to get better air flow from center Andy McCollum, Incognito is constantly gaining confidence.

“He’s a physical guy and a high energy guy,” Pace said. “Sometimes I have to wind him down a little. I’m pretty low key and he’s a little high motored, so that’s a good combination for us.

“He’s working hard everyday and having a veteran like myself beside him, we can kind of talk things out and start making things happen without even communicating.”

In years past, the Rams have been more of a passing team, focusing on finesse more than power. But, Linehan made it clear on his arrival that the focus would be shifting toward a more physical group.

Incognito has never been one afraid to add that element to the offensive line he plays for.

“You like to have those types of guys,” Linehan said. “He’s certainly had to prove a lot since he was drafted by us. (There were) a lot of questions in his past and his youth. He’s grown up a bunch as far as I’m concerned…He comes to work every day. He competes hard. He’s very coachable. He’s really improved and he’s certainly a guy that’s in the mix there right now.”

That doesn’t mean Incognito doesn’t have his share of things to work on. He estimated early in camp that he was “only about a 5 or 6” on a scale of 10 in terms of his technique. He readily asserts himself as a run blocker, but still must refine his pass blocking skills to become a complete player.

“Richie has a great chance to really establish himself by how he performs,” Incognito said. “He’s played very well day in and day out. It does help he is working next to Orlando and Andy. He has certainly made a good impression so far.”

COUNTDOWN TO CUT DAY: The NFL adjusted the breakdown of the cut days slightly in the offseason, pushing back the days and lowering the number of initial cuts. August 29th is the first cut down day as teams must trim their rosters to 75 players.

In past years, teams had to cut down to 65 players (not including NFL Europe exemptions) on the first cut. Now, the cut must be made to 75 regardless of exemption status.

The final cut is scheduled for Sept. 2 and practice squads can be established the next day. With that in mind, Linehan and his staff are beginning to get an idea of how the roster will break down.

“We have a general idea,” Linehan said. “We know what is ideal, but we are going to go by the philosophy that we will have the best 53 players on our team will be the 53 come Denver week so you don’t want to close the door on any possibility or scenario.”

RAM BITS: The list of missing players during Tuesday's practice was about the same as Monday with a few tweaks...Fullback Madison Hedgecock returned to pads, but was limited...Receiver Isaac Bruce had an outstanding day and continues to show he has lost almost nothing from his game...Paul Smith has a slight calf injury that kept him out again Tuesday...Defensive end Leonard Little was also slightly limited during the workout because of a strain in his quad...Jamal Brooks has a sprained toe and was also limited.