By Howard Balzer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Back on July 21, my first official day writing for this site, I presented some key questions the Rams would be facing in training camp.


Here was No. 1: Is Orlando Pace healthy? Good question. Pace has played a total of nine games the last two seasons, and is trying to come back from a torn labrum. There might be no player more integral to the team's hopes for success this season than Pace. He participated on a limited basis during the offseason, and it was said he will be ready for the start of training camp. But will he be? We won't know that until Friday, and it's also uncertain how much he will practice during these dog days of summer.


There isn't much depth behind Pace, so his health and ability to play at a high level is paramount for quarterback Marc Bulger to maintain his physical and mental health. With Pace, the Rams can compete for a playoff spot in the mediocre NFC. Without him, it could be another very long season.


So, what is the latest update 29 days later, and with two preseason games in the books? It appears Pace is progressing nicely, despite missing the first two days of practice this week after participating in 39 plays Saturday night against Tennessee.


When Pace didnít practice Monday, just 36 hours after Saturdayís game, it was understandable when coach Scott Linehan explained away his status by saying Pace was just sore. However, there were some raised eyebrows when Pace failed to do anything Tuesday with the team practicing in full pads.


Once again, Linehan voiced no concern. ďIt is more just that he has been playing and played a lot,Ē the coach said. ďHe used his arms and shoulders really well this last game and just felt sore. There is no reoccurrence of any injuries. The guy really hadnít played live until the last two preseason games, a little in the scrimmages down in Tennessee but other than that it was pretty physical, he was out there for 40-something plays which was good.Ē


It was 39 plays, including one possession where the Rams ran 17 plays. Still, with 19 days until the season opener, it sure makes one wonder if Pace will be able to play an entire game. Asked if he is concerned that Pace might have to be subbed for at times against Philadelphia, Linehan said, ďNot really. He came in and I was kind of thinking we would just be starting doing some things now and really weíre just backing up because we started at the beginning of camp and really pushed him and never missed a beat. Once we started that second week of camp we were pretty much working him with as many ones as we could. And then we had no idea we would get 40-something snaps out of the first unit and he was able to do that and play in a game where we were running the ball and having him be physical. So, itís just a matter of giving him some time off to get feeling a little bit better.Ē


As important as running back Steven Jackson is to the offense, Pace might be even more important. Not only must he be on the field, but he has to show he can help protect quarterback Marc Bulger as well as he did before missing 23 games the last two seasons. Pace has missed a block in each of the first two games that resulted in sacks of Bulger, including the one Saturday night that knocked the quarterback out of the game.


IS JACKSON DELUSIONAL?

Thereís no question holdout running back Steven Jackson was, in fact, contacting agents recently with the thought of replacing Eugene Parker.


The latest scuttlebutt in the agent community is that Jackson was upset that Parker didnít show up at training camp in Wisconsin and attempt to negotiate with general manager Jay Zygmunt. Is he kidding? Or just delusional? It seems Jackson has things backward: He was the one that needed to be at training camp, not his agent.


TRYING TO COLLECT

The Rams are smart for attempting to recoup one-fourth of the more than $800,000 signing bonus they paid suspended defensive tackle Claude Wroten in 2006.


However, the Rams werenít smart for drafting Wroten in the third round after he was arrested for possession of marijuana three months before the draft and then failing a drug test at the scouting combine the next month. They also werenít smart for paying that kind of upfront money to Wroten.


The smart thing to do would have been to prorate his entire bonus and only pay him for games he was on the teamís roster, and not suspended. Wroten is now suspended for a full year, and missed four games on league suspension last season.


SIMPLY NOTING

*Wide receiver Dante Hall missed practice again Tuesday with what Linehan said was ďa sore hip that is bothering him. He is not able to run; he just came out and we let him do all the walk-throughs, but I just told (him) we will kind of go day-to-day.Ē


*Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe remains sidelined by a hamstring problem that has affected him since July 28. Atogwe returned to practice Aug. 4, but didnít feel right and hasnít practiced since. ďIt seems to be still grabbing, still tight and he canít open up,Ē Linehan said. ďIt just feels like itís grabbing and he feels like he could reaggravate it, so we are just being patient with it.Ē


*The Rams placed tackle Brandon Gorin (shoulder) on injured reserve Tuesday and signed running back Lavarus Giles. A 6-1, 230-pound rookie free agent from Jackson State, Giles was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars on June 11 and was waived Aug. 14. Giles arrived Tuesday around lunch time and did very little in practice, but he could see time against Baltimore Saturday night.


Said Linehan, ďHe is going to be immediately involved in our special teams and probably have an abbreviated role as a running back for us in this next game.Ē


MY TAKE

The Rams have showed little urgency as players have been sidelined this preseason. When cornerback Justin King was injured against Tennessee Aug. 9, another defensive back (Tanard Davis) didnít practice until four days later. Davis had been released by the Eagles in June. Before Davis arrived, wide receiver Derek Stanley played defensive back in one practice because of a shortage in the secondary, and international practice-squad safety Sebastian Sejean has played and practiced a lot more than anyone expected.


Iíve never advocated signing new players just because they have recognizable names, but the Rams could have pursued linebacker Brandon Moore (released by San Francisco and signed by Arizona), running back Marcel Shipp (released by Arizona and signed by Houston Monday), or safety Lance Schulters (unrestricted free agent signed by New Orleans Monday).


Shipp could be a solid addition to the running back depth even if Steven Jackson was in training camp. Schulters might be able to add some savvy and leadership to a young defense.


Of course, this presumes those players would be interested in signing with the Rams.