Rams coach Scott Linehan was still being coy Thursday, but all indications are that the team's new-look offensive line will have Richie Incognito at center and Todd Steussie at left guard when they line up to play the ***** Sunday. The changes were necessitated by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Andy McCollum against Denver.
When McCollum left the game, Larry Turner took over and held his own. But the coaches want a little more size in the middle of the line, and the switch of Incognito could end up being permanent beyond this season.

After practice Thursday, when asked if a decision had been made, Linehan said, "Nothing yet. We'll evaluate it today, probably take it into tomorrow. Richie worked a lot with the ones today, but we worked the other two fellows too. We're just going to evaluate what's the best thing to do this week. Certainly our plan would be, as we go on, that it makes sense for Richie to move in there now because he's worked it. It was a part of our plan in the off-season. We haven't made a decision as to what we're going to do this game."

Incognito worked at center during one of the team's minicamps when McCollum was resting from off-season shoulder surgery. He likely would have stayed there, but Claude Terrell wasn't doing well with an injured wrist, so Incognito moved to left guard. Terrell is now on injured reserve.

Talking about the minicamp, Linehan said of Incognito, "He worked that whole one at center and really that was what convinced all of us that that was a definite possibility going into this season. When you get into it, you put your best five out there, and Andy was at center, so we moved him to guard and kind of shelved it. This injury certainly changed things."

While Turner didn't absolutely know what would happen, he could read the handwriting on the wall. Yet, he accepted it with class.

"It's business; that's just how it is," Turner said. "I understand. You take it with a grain of salt and, hey, just roll with the punches. I'm not disappointed. I accept my role, any way it is. I could be home in Dayton teaching school. We're 1-0 right now, so whatever I can do help us to be 2-0, maybe 3-0 and on down the line, I'm ready to do."

Said Linehan, "I'm sure Larry probably feels like we don't have confidence in him. I explained to him (that) it has nothing to do with that. What's going to happen now is we've got to give ourselves depth at the position. ... And we've got to do our best as coaches to try to get what we feel, or think, is our best five on the field."

As for having Steussie, who has been mostly a tackle in his career at guard, Linehan said, "I'm comfortable because he's done it before. He knows it. What's good is that if we do go with it that way, he can help Richie with line calls because he knows them all. I think Richie's actually doing fine, probably doesn't need it, but he may need a little help from a veteran in there."

Meanwhile, in describing the difference between center and guard, Incognito said, "It's two totally different worlds. It's the difference between chess and backgammon. Center's a thinking man's sport. You've got to react to what they're giving you. And you've got to let everybody know what's going on. Center definitely would be chess.

"Guard, well, that's just let it roll. Roll those dice. Roll it and go."


To a man, the Rams' offense can't wait to score a touchdown, especially from the red zone. That way, the questions about it not happening won't be asked anymore.

In a preseason where the first-team offense played just more than four quarters while learning a new system, the starters have yet to score a touchdown, and in the season-opener against Denver, there were four failures in the red zone. (Technically, it was five, but that final red-zone trip came as the clock expired and quarterback Marc Bulger kneeled down three times.)

Fans usually call for more creativity in the red zone, but coach Scott Linehan doesn't buy that.

"Just execute better," Linehan said, when asked how to improve red-zone scoring. "Every play's unique in any game, whether it's the red zone or the 20 yard-line coming out. It's all really more execution. Every once in a while you have that perfect play, but I think you've got to really execute at your best when you get down there. It's not easy to score down there, as we were proving, but it is about the timing and details of it.

"I think it's a great humbling, but learning experience for all of us. Like I said on Monday, we will work very hard on getting better at it without making it a mental thing. Just know that it's something we certainly need to improve on and just get better at executing down there. I really think that's it more than anything. You can over-analyze it, but I think we just need to play better and execute better when we get down there."

Linehan did acknowledge the frustration, but likened it to a hitting slump in baseball.

"I think as a competitor, it weighs on you," he said. "Willie Mays said it one time about being in a slump. They said, 'What do you do to get out of a slump?' He said, 'Keep swinging.' So we're going to keep calling plays and try to get it in the end zone."

Noting the failures against Denver, offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, "There were plays to be made out there. I just think it was a combination of we had some mental errors on a couple plays, and we had physical errors where we just got beat, or we didn't make a throw."

After the game Sunday night, Linehan said sometimes it can be a case of trying too hard. He elaborated on that when recalling the most frustrating failure when the Rams recovered a Denver fumble at the 3-yard line and had to settle for a field goal.

"That right there ... got us a little bit out of whack, and got us a little bit tight and tentative after that," Linehan said. "I think we were like, 'We're snake-bit.' I think the natural tendency was to start pressing a little bit."

Without coming out and saying it, the Rams have a quiet confidence that things will change this week in San Francisco. The ***** had 31 points scored against them in the first game against Arizona, and while this game is on the road for the Rams, there is the feeling there are matchups to be won in the San Francisco secondary.

Using another baseball analogy, Linehan said of the negative streak, "I liken it to last week, watching the Yankees play. I think A-Rod (shortstop Alex Rodriguez) hadn't had a hit in 22 or 23 at bats. Then he got two hits in a row and they stopped talking about the hitless streak. I think we have just got to go in there and get it done and start a new streak and that is scoring down there."

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 58-52-2. Since 1999, the Rams had won 10 of 12 games in the series until the ***** swept in 2005 by a total of seven points, 28-25 in San Francisco and 24-20 in St. Louis. How close has this series been? In the 112 games played, the Rams have scored 2,507 points to San Francisco's 2,484, a difference of 23 points.

NOTES, QUOTES

The Rams didn't throw to the tight end in the opening win over Denver, but coach Scott Linehan said that was by design, considering rookie Joe Klopfenstein was making his first NFL start.

"We were going to limit a little bit of what we did with the young tight end corps," Linehan said. "We only have two up, Madison (Hedgecock) backed up, both the fullback and tight end spot. He (Klopfenstein) was a little tentative early in the game, but as the game went on, he got better and blocked very well. He didn't really have many opportunities to catch the ball. We used some three-wide sets and things like that, but that was the designed nature of this particular game plan.

"We used him in protections on some play actions and things like that to help our protection and take some pressure off him. I think some games will lend more to the tight end and I think our utilization of him in the red zone will improve our productivity down there as well. Not many guys, whether they're drafted high, or not, start the opener. He did it with relatively little anxiety and improved as the game went on, and I think he played pretty good in the second half, and played great down the stretch of the fourth quarter."

As the Rams prepared for the *****, Linehan continued to put emphasis on the fact the team did not commit a turnover against Denver. With five takeaways, the Rams led the NFL with a plus-5 turnover ratio after one week.

Said Linehan, "I was proud of our offense that they understand and, trust me, welcome the opportunity to see that we have to improve but also didn't wreck the game on our side. The thing that was great was we protected the ball. It's really hard to go through an NFL game and not turn the ball over; to be able to protect the football the way we did, and kind of hang in there even though it's a little frustrating to come away with threes instead of sevens.

"Not to make that the emphasis, but that's the obvious thing that we have to improve on. The one thing that I'm the most happy with is we're plus-5 in the turnover differential in the NFL right now and that's a great way to come out of the gates."

QB Marc Bulger has heard the concerns about the offense's struggles, considering the first unit hasn't hey scored a touchdown, including the preseason. Thus, the questions have started regarding how comfortable Bulger is with the new offense installed by coach Scott Linehan.

Said Bulger, "We're getting there. It's an ongoing process. Obviously, we're not there, but with each game and each practice we're getting to know each other more and more. He knows what I like more and I'm going to learn what he's thinking and what he's going to call more. Same with the receivers. He's going to start learning what routes they run better than others. It's a whole maturation process that we're going to have to go through. I'm not saying two or three years out, but we're getting there and I think we'll get better every week.

"We just don't want to panic after one week. I know we didn't do much in the preseason, but we're going to get it going. One week in, you look at Seattle, the No. 1 offense (from 2005), and they struggled a little bit. If we had the same system, we might have struggled, just because it is Week 1. I think you compound the fact that it's a new system and that's why we're a little bit slow right now. We are doing some good things. We're going to get there and we aren't going to panic."

As for those the offense is becoming conservative, Bulger said, "I don't think so. Like I said, there's a lot going into a new offense. Believe me, I'm with you. I'm used to having 300-yard games. It'll happen. We've got the most confidence in coach Scott Linehan. He's done it before. He's installing things with a purpose to bring us along. We've all been in the same system for six years. It's different for us. We're doing some things well, but obviously we're struggling a little bit in the red zone, but I think in time we'll get better."

BY THE NUMBER: 3 - Number of turnover-free games the Rams have had on offense in the last four seasons. That includes last Sunday's game against Denver.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're mature enough to understand that. I do kind of kid with (defensive coordinator Jim)Haslett and say, 'That's all that we need is five turnovers a game'. He didn't want to hear that. I think there's a certain amount of that, too. You also need a certain amount of confidence and what a great confidence builder that was. I think the realistic side says that's not going to happen very many times in your life time, the way the game went. I think it really sent a big charge through our team that we were able to go out and win a game like that." - Coach Scott Linehan on the bar being raised by the defense's performance in the win over the Broncos.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Rams and Jaguars exchanged practice-squad players with each going to the other team's active roster. Center Brett Romberg was signed by the Rams off Jacksonville's practice squad as a replacement for Andy McCollum, who was placed on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Nose tackle Montavious Stanley was signed off the Rams' practice squad by Jacksonville, replacing defensive Reggie Hayward, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles.

Replacing Stanley on the Rams' practice squad was defensive tackle Tim Sandidge, who was released by the Rams in the cutdown to 53 players.


PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a sprained foot. Still listed as questionable on the injury report, Tinoisamoa will play Sunday unless he has a setback.

NT Jimmy Kennedy returned to practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday because of a broken bone in his hand. Still listed as questionable on the injury report, Kennedy will play Sunday with a cast on his hand.

LB Jamal Brooks returned to practice Thursday after being limited Wednesday because of an infection that was drained in his knee. Still listed as questionable on the injury report, Brooks will play Sunday unless he has a setback.

LG Richie Incognito, who made his first NFL start in Week 1, worked at center in practice Wednesday and could start there against San Francisco this week.

T Todd Steussie might get the start at left guard against San Francisco if Richie Incognito moves from guard to center.

GAME PLAN: On offense, the Rams will try to exploit matchups in the *****' secondary and create yardage with the passing game. Defensively, the goal will be to get pressure on quarterback Alex Smith and force him into mistakes. To do that, the defense will have to stop running back Frank Gore.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who combined for 12 receptions against Denver, vs. ***** CBs Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer, who were part of a pass defense that allowed 301 passing yards against Arizona and a passer rating of 114.8.

Rams DL, which had four sacks against the Broncos, vs. ***** OL, which will be without LG Larry Allen and possibly LT Jonas Jennings. If Jennings doesn't play, the Rams would likely switch DE Leonard Little from the left side to the right.

INJURY IMPACT: The impact will be huge after the loss of C Andy McCollum for the season. Larry Turner filled in when McCollum left the game against Denver, but Turner could be back on the bench against San Francisco. The Rams are expected to slide Richie Incognito to center from left guard, and insert Todd Steussie at left guard