Tuesday, August 2, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

With five and a half days of training camp in the books, the Rams took an opportunity to give back to the fans Tuesday morning when the entire team strolled to the sidelines and signed autographs for about 10 minutes.

In return for their time, the players were rewarded with the afternoon off. After a short morning practice that ended after about an hour and 15 minutes, the team will have a couple short meetings before being given the night off.

St. Louis survived its first rash of injuries with nothing serious. A little back stiffness here and some hamstring tightness there is about all the damage done thus far. But more than any minor injury, coach Mike Martz said the reason for allowing the team some extra time off is for what it has done on the field.

“We have been (playing) five days now and I am really pleased with the work,” Martz said. “Actually, we have had less practice time on the field, (but) we have got more in and are doing it at a higher level than we have ever done before. It’s scary to do this because you don’t know how it’s going to come out or how the players are going to be. But I couldn’t be more happy with the way they responded, come to work with a smile on their face. The drudgery of camp is not what it used to be now. We have gotten such good work I will give them the day off.”

For veterans, the day off means a chance to go home and spend the entire night with their families. Any player that has been in the league for less than three years will be allowed to have the night off, but will maintain a curfew of midnight before they must be back at the Four Points Sheraton.

The Rams did a study in the offseason of when the most likely time for injuries to start is and that revealed that now is the time for that.

"This is that time,” Martz said. “We were going to do this four months ago. We have done the study and the sixth, seventh, eighth days of camp, that’s when the muscle pulls and groins, all that stuff happens so we thought we’d have a very light practice today, give them the rest of the day off and then go back at it tomorrow just to give everybody a bit of a reprieve. You just want to keep coaching them, but you also know it’s the right thing to do.”

Martz felt that today wasn’t just the right time to give the players some time off, but also to give the fans a thrill.

“These people come out and expect to see a real hard practice, but we didn’t let them know it was going to be a real light practice,” Martz said. “So, the least we can do is go over and sign an autograph for them so that they get something out of it today.”

INJURY UPDATE: There was little change on the injury front Tuesday morning. Receiver Torry Holt continued to miss time with stiffness in his lower back. Martz said Holt is getting close to a return, though.

“He’s getting better,” Martz said. “We don’t have any significant injuries at this point, knock on wood. It’s been very good.”

Travis Fisher (groin) and Jerametrius Butler (knee bruise) could be back in practice at any time, but Martz said he wants to hold them out until they are fully prepared, giving some younger players a shot in the process. Butler could be out until early next week, depending on his improvement.

“He could be back right now and I asked him to stay out,” Martz said. “It just gives us a chance to look at Anderson and some of these other guys. We’ll see how sore it is (next week).”

Dusty McGrorty (knee sprain) and defensive lineman Brian Howard (hamstring) also missed the morning workout.

HODGES IMPRESSES: Punter Reggie Hodges got his first real opportunity to show what he can do in special teams drills Tuesday morning. Hodges showed impressive leg strength in booming a number of punts long distances with solid hang times.

Many had speculated that the Rams would look to bring in a veteran punter or at least another punter of some sort to compete with Hodges, but Martz said that he doesn’t see that happening unless Hodges begins to struggle.

“Yea, until he screws up I have a lot of faith in him,” Martz joked. “No, I’m just kidding. He is a very talented guy, but again, he hasn’t punted in a game yet. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

BARRON WATCH: Reports that Minnesota signed defensive end Erasmus James yesterday proved erroneous. James has not agreed to a deal. That is important to the Rams because once James signs, the parameters will be in place for a deal with Alex Barron.

Of course, it isn’t impossible for Barron to sign without the player in front of and behind him signed. Dallas signed defensive end Marcus Spears to a contract. In reality, it’s the player behind you that matters more because there isn’t an agent in the business that wants to be the guy who signed his player for less than the guy behind him.

Barron is now in his seventh missed day of camp and is putting himself in a difficult position for when he does arrive. As of Tuesday morning, no deal seemed imminent.

Once Barron does arrive, he will face the difficult task of moving from the right side to the left. Grant Williams, who is holding down the right tackle spot for now and has spent time on both sides of the line, said the missed time will hurt Barron’s chances to play right away.

“He’s missing a lot,” Williams said. “I know it’s not all in his hands right now and I know he would like to be here. We always want more tackles here. In this offense particularly there are so many details. I haven’t seen more details in all the offenses combined than this one.

“There are a lot of one way plays so if I am at right tackle all week; there are a lot of one way plays to the left that I am not really thinking about as a right tackle. If they get flipped all of a sudden I am still responsible to know all of those. It’s just a lot to take in.”

The possibility remains that the Rams could bring in another tackle to compete on the right side in an effort to hedge their bets. Last year, St. Louis did a similar thing at left guard by bringing in Blaine Saipaia, Tom Nütten and Chris Dishman in the early part of the season.

JUST VISITING: The Rams welcomed the Disabled Athlete Sports Association to Rams Park for the morning session. About 40 people from the organization and about 10 kids watched practice from the sidelines.

The highlight of the day came when the players went over to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the kids.

The D.A.S.A. is a non-profit organization located in the St. Charles/St. Peters area and provides people with physical and mental disabilities the opportunity to train for and participate in a variety of sports.

The attendance for Tuesday’s morning practice was 1,382.