Rams give Lincoln native shot at left guard position
By HAL PILGER
MACOMB - The third year could prove to be the charm for Lincoln native Andy King, an offensive lineman with the St. Louis Rams.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound former Illinois State standout has played in only a handful of games since signing as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2002 season. Not only has he bounced back and forth between the practice squad and active roster, King has been switched between the tackle and guard positions.
Through it all, King has kept a positive attitude and noticeably strong work ethic. And now his patience and hard work may be paying off. The Rams are planning to play King considerably at the left guard spot during the preseason.
Veteran center Dave Wohlabaugh, coming back from offseason hip surgery, is limited to participation in a few agility drills and may be weeks away from a full recovery. The Rams have moved Andy McCollum to center, creating the opportunity for the 25-year-old King to play left guard.
"I've been at tackle for the last couple of years, in and out of right and left tackle, and filling in at guard here and there in practice," said the 1997 Lincoln High School graduate. "Now this year I think I'm expected to stay at left guard and do what I can there to be a contributing member of that starting five."
That's largely, King believes, because of his patience and persistence - two things he knew he would need to make it in the NFL.
"Undrafted free agent, up and down with the practice squad several times the last couple years, you just have to make your way and take a hold of opportunities when they come up," King said.
"At some point during the offseason, I don't remember exactly when, Mike (Martz, head coach) just came by and said, 'We're gonna put you at guard, work you there and get you going.' And then closer to mini-camp they weren't sure if Wohlabaugh was going to be able to practice, and they said they were going to put me where they need me.
"I was at right tackle during mini-camp until the last day and then started in at left guard and stayed there since. So I guess it was really the end of mini-camp when they put me there."
And King, who has not played a great deal at guard, would not mind pulling permanent left guard duty.
"I can't tell you how much of a benefit that is, to be able to focus on one position," he said. "The last couple years I've had to make sure I knew everything about all the positions so whenever I had to fill in I was ready to do it. Now, being able to focus and just get that edge on this position, I think will really help out a lot.
"It's not too different," King said. "I guess (playing) inside you've got people on the right and left of you, so you've just got to get used to playing inside a box, where at tackle you're kind of more out there on an island by yourself.
"You get a little more help sometimes; you get a little less help sometimes. Some cutoff blocks are a little different. I've got to change a few things, but it's all football.
"I was a tackle through college," King added. "I spent just a few days at guard when they were trying to move some people around one time. Originally when I came here they wanted me to play guard, so I spent the rookie mini-camp my first year at guard. And then we went into the team mini-camp, and I think it was because Big O (Orlando Pace) was out with an ankle (injury), they put me at tackle and I kind of stayed there through that year."
King has come a long way since he made his NFL debut at Philadelphia in 2002 after Pace tore his hamstring. John St. Clair was switched from right to left tackle, and King took over at right tackle. King's inexperience showed as Eagles defensive end N.D. Kalu collected a couple of sacks.
"He went into that Philadelphia game a couple of years ago, and we all sweated real hard on that one," Martz said, pointing out that unlike some players, King didn't let his difficult debut demoralize him. Instead, he worked even harder to improve.
"He handled that very well. That's a pretty good indication, or window into his toughness," Martz said. "He got challenged by that. He got a little taste of playing. It's what he wanted, and he worked that much harder.
"We threw him into guard this spring because we wanted to see what he could do. He has really improved and done really well. He's going to make some mistakes here in camp, but he's going to play an awful lot of preseason - more than the rest of the guys on the offensive line in that first unit - just to get him ready."
King has very specific and ambitious expectations for this season.
"Come in here and do well, contribute to the team, help us get to a championship and be part of a starting five that dominates as an offensive line," King said.
Martz shares those expectations, indicating he would have no qualms about playing King if the season started today.
"If I felt (a lack of confidence in King), then he wouldn't be in there right now," Martz said. "I think we all have seen enough of Andy over the last few years that we feel good about his ability to go in and handle all of this.
"He's what we're looking for," Martz added. "He's a big, physical guy. He's a tough guy. He's smart, and he wants to be as good as he can be. What else do you want?"
Martz is particularly pleased with what King concedes is a bit of a mean and nasty streak when he's battling defenders.
"That's a quality that we like to have in those offensive linemen," Martz said. "That's what Adam (Timmerman) has; that's what Andy (McCollum) has. All those guys up there have that, and he fits that mold."
Said King, "You can't sit back; you can't relax. You've always got to be on the aggressive side and on the front edge. You've got to push, otherwise you get complacent and complacency, honestly, can lose you a job."
A job King is confident he can do.
"You've got to do what you've got to do. Coach Martz has said this ever since I've been here - if you don't consider yourself a starter on this team, then you don't belong here.
"I took it to heart the day that I got here and tried to prepare myself to be that starter whenever the chance came."
It appears that chance is now.
"God gave me talents to do something, and football is the talents that he gave me," King said. "If he wants me playing football, then I'm going to be playing football. He's prepared me the last couple years to be where I'm at now, and with his help I'll take this starting position and do the best that I can with it.
"I've gotten stronger since I've been here; I've gotten faster. I think the mental edge is really what's changed - just being able to think faster. This offense, there's so much to it that you have to be on top of it in order to play well."
Which is exactly what he expects to do. Oh, and King has one more expectation for this fall.
"I've got a baby on the way," beamed King, who has been married about 11/2 years. "We're due in November." A good, solid month before the playoffs.