Thursday, October 4, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

After weeks of receiving nothing but bad news in terms of injuries on the offensive line, it appears there is finally some good news for that unit.

Richie Incognito is ready to make his return to the lineup as he is set to make the start at right guard Sunday against Arizona.

“He’s had two good, solid days without a hitch,” coach Scott Linehan said. “So we’re very optimistic.”

It appears that barring a major setback in the next two days there is plenty of reason for optimism. Incognito has taken all of the repetitions and completed two full practices already this week and says he is ready to get back on the field.

“I’m good to go,” Incognito said. “I am just shaking the rust off. I’m getting back to basic things, covering all of the stuff we basically covered in training camp, getting pass set and the little stuff.”

Incognito, of course, has been on the sideline because of a high ankle sprain since the second preseason game on Aug. 18 against San Diego. That injury was expected to keep him out four weeks, but Incognito tried to get back a little early and aggravated the injury in practice in the week leading to the season opener.

That setback has cost him the first quarter of the season, a quarter in which he has been forced to watch the Rams tumble to 0-4 out of the gates and plenty of his teammates and friends suffer various injuries.

“It’s tough anytime you sit around especially when the guys are out there having a tough time,” Incognito said. “It’s tough sitting around and not being able to help out.”

Incognito started all 16 games in 2006 at a variety of positions, but knows the feeling of sitting out after injuries kept him out the entire 2005 season.

He says he learned plenty from that experience and has tried to keep himself in the game as much as possible even if he can’t participate.

“You have to stay in it mentally,” Incognito said. “You can’t get too far away from it. You have to stay in it in the meeting rooms and out on the practice field and go through the plays in your head to take mental reps.”

Incognito isn’t the only Ram with experience on the offensive line to make a return to the starting lineup. All signs are pointing to veteran Andy McCollum getting the starting spot at left guard against Arizona.

“We’re really looking at having Andy play a number of snaps and, in fact, possibly starting him at left guard; he certainly deserves it,” Linehan said. “I think it would be a really settling move for us to have a veteran (at left guard). We moved Alex (Barron) over and he’s basically going into his fourth game in the NFL as a left tackle and it helps to play next to a guy that’s played a lot of plays.”

When asked point blank if McCollum would start, Linehan said “Right now that’s how we’re leaning.” McCollum started 16 games at left guard in 2003.

Meanwhile at right tackle, the Rams will go with Milford Brown with Brandon Gorin as the backup. Brown started at right tackle against San Francisco.

HOLDING PLACE: Receiver and holder Dane Looker is out this week with a thigh injury, leaving his role on special teams to punter Donnie Jones.

Jones will assume the holding duties for kicker Jeff Wilkins, who has struggled in recent weeks. Linehan said Wilkins won’t be bothered by the change.

“I don’t know,” Linehan said. “Tiger Woods doesn’t throw his golf clubs away after a bad round. I think it will be good to have somebody that’s been holding in this league that he feels comfortable with. I think with Donnie being the holder, that’s exactly what we needed – to have a veteran backup at any position…I know Jeff has a lot of confidence in Donnie.”

Jones has experience as a holder from his time in Miami and held for kicker Olindo Mare for two seasons.

“It would be a little bit different if you had to have a guy that hasn’t done it for awhile or grab one of the quarterbacks,” Linehan said. “He’ll be fine. Jeff’s a veteran. He knows how to get himself prepared and make sure the timing’s right. All those things have to be done. We’ve worked a little extra on that this week.”

INJURY REPORT: The laundry list of injuries looked the same Thursday afternoon. Isaac Bruce (hamstring), Corey Chavous (pectoral), Looker (thigh), Raonall Smith (knee), Steven Jackson (groin) and Adam Goldberg (knee) did not practice.

Bruce and Chavous’ status is still in question for this weekend, but after two days of missed practice it isn’t likely either will be able to go against the Cardinals. The others have all been ruled out for this week.

On the bright side, cornerback Tye Hill (back) appears to be edging closer to a return. Hill was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but has participated in some of the individual drills. Hill is probably still a week or so away, but the cornerback position is about to be fortified.

Marc Bulger (ribs, knee) and James Hall (pectoral) were also limited.

THE WHIZ: Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt was one of the shining head coaching prospects in the league heading into last offseason.

But the Rams were on the Whisenhunt bandwagon a bit before the rest of the league caught on.

Whisenhunt, who was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, had an interview with St. Louis after the 2005 season and impressed the Rams’ decision makers. But by the time the Rams interviewed him they already had a shortened list and getting further with Whisenhunt became impossible because the Steelers were still alive in the playoffs.

“I did have an interview over the phone with them which went very well,” Whisenhunt said. “But what I think it basically came down to was that they didn’t know how much longer we were going to be in the playoffs so I think that kind of eliminated me from serious contention for the job because of that.”

Ultimately, the Rams hired Linehan and Whisenhunt had to wait a season to get a head coaching job. But he didn’t seem to mind waiting around too much.

“I am very pleased that I have a Super Bowl ring,” Whisenhunt said.

RAM BITS: This week’s game against the Cardinals is officially a blackout as the team was unable to sell the remaining 3,000 or so tickets to reach a sellout. Tickets are still available and arriving at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday is the only way to see the game locally…With Smith out this week, Brandon Chillar will assume the buck end duties when the Rams go to their third down package with three down linemen