Incognito Making Impression
Friday, June 9, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

It’s been almost three years since Richie Incognito has been able to strap on the pads and helmet and step onto a football field. But, like any other activity requiring muscle memory, it still comes natural to the Rams’ young offensive lineman.

“For me, it’s just like getting back on a bike,” Incognito said. “It’s just so much fun being out here with the guys. When you are on IR it’s a tough deal. You are kind of like an outsider, you feel like you are on the outside looking in just sitting on the sidelines trying to get a feel for everything.”

As the Rams opened their third and final minicamp Friday afternoon, Incognito couldn’t help but feel like he was no longer on the outside looking in. In fact, for the better part of the past few weeks Incognito has been on the inside in more ways than one.

With returning starter Claude Terrell struggling with a wrist injury and some conditioning issues, Incognito has surged to the forefront on the interior and has spent all of the organized team activities and the first day of the final minicamp working with the first-team at left guard.

While there is plenty of time for the competition at guard and any other position to flesh itself out before the start of the season, Incognito has made all the right moves to take an early lead in the race.

Incognito reported to the beginning of offseason workouts in excellent shape at just under 300 pounds and has continued to work to get back into shape after suffering a knee injury near last April’s NFL Draft. There was one slight setback since his return, though as Incognito cracked a bone in his hand during organized team activities.

“He had a great minicamp when we had the rookies and first year players and he played center,” coach Scott Linehan said. “I wasn’t sure how that would go for him, he hadn’t done it for a while then he had a great camp. He was able to take snaps today and he played some guard. He was a little rusty, but he had a better outing this afternoon. He’s another of those guys that has had a great offseason.”

Now, things are full speed ahead for the first time since Incognito’s Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl.

“It’s something I missed a lot,” Incognito said. “The second go around is kind of the second chance. It’s amazing. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be between those lines and playing well.”

Incognito’s return to the field has been three years in the making after a series of setbacks, including the right knee injury which cost him his rookie season with the Rams. That injury scared off some teams on draft day, but the Rams grabbed him based on his immense potential and fiery football persona.

After rehabilitating in Arizona, Incognito signed with the Rams on Sept. 29 of last year and was placed on the injured reserve/non-football injury list. On Oct. 20, he participated in his only practice as a Ram. He was officially placed in injured reserve in November.

Now, those days appear to be well behind Incognito, who reports no pain or discomfort in his knee. Things have gone so well that Incognito could have a legitimate shot at earning a starting position next to left tackle Orlando Pace and center Andy McCollum.

“I’m working hard, learning the plays, trying not to make too many mistakes,” Incognito said. “I’m just going to do my thing, work hard and we’ll see when training camp comes around.”

Since his arrival in St. Louis, Incognito’s position has been in nearly constant question. He worked at right guard in place of an injured Adam Timmerman during the team’s first minicamp and spent time almost exclusively at center during the rookie minicamp.

During his college career, Incognito never played a game anywhere but left tackle. And though he doesn’t have a preference on what position he plays, he is quickly growing fond of left guard.

“I have bounced around, right guard, center, left guard,” Incognito said. “I think I am definitely going to stay somewhere on the interior of the line. I definitely like playing left guard next to Big O. Big O is great. He makes my job a lot easier. But wherever I can fit in and help.”

Incognito is still working to get adjusted to the new offensive scheme as well as the move inside to guard, where he often leans on the likes of Timmerman and Todd Steussie to help him understand the difference between tackle and guard.

So far, that adjustment comes down to fundamentals that center on hand placement and footwork. For someone used to working in space, Incognito is working hard to get accustomed to his new, tight quarters.

“Guard is a lot different,” Incognito said. “Tackle you are more like a basketball player trying to get your feet in front of people. At guard you are in there with real tight footwork. Mainly the footwork and the hand placement are a lot different, you have to be nice and low and tight. Tackle is more like a basketball game.”

As for the knee, Incognito has been cleared to resume playing at full speed. He is still wearing a supportive brace around his knee, though he says he has worn one for most of his career and thinks it can serve him well in a protective sense.

Incognito willingly acknowledges that it’s too early to get too excited about his advanced role, but there is one thing he hasn’t experienced yet that he can’t wait for.

“I’m 100 percent,” Incognito said. “I’m just waiting for the pads to come on. That’s the equalizer. The D line has the advantage right now; we don’t have a surface to work on. When we get those big shoulder pads on we get to bang around a bit and they get to bang on us a bit.”

For now, though, Incognito is just happy to be back on the field.