McCollum enjoys demands Rams place on the center
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch

The sight last summer at Lake of the Ozarks had to have been bizarre: There was 6-foot-2, 310-pound Rams guard Adam Timmerman piloting a jet ski and towing 6-4, 300-pound teammate Andy McCollum around on a big rubber tube.

"I had him airborne a few times, which is a pretty amazing feat in and of itself," Timmerman said. "He kept saying, 'Faster, faster.' I was just doing what I was told."

Not so, McCollum countered. "He was trying really hard to hurt me," said McCollum, who lines up at center alongside Timmerman. "He was whipping me around there pretty fast."

Asked if the spectacle drew a few stares, Timmerman laughed and said, "I don't know ... but it should have."

According to coach Mike Martz, McCollum should be attracting attention around the NFL, too. "I keep saying this - and I've said it since the beginning of the year: He really is having a Pro Bowl year," Martz said. "He's playing out there on another level."

McCollum, 34, never has earned an all-star berth in 10 NFL seasons. "I don't have the big name out there that a lot of players do," he said. "I never made a big splash in the newspapers with a big signing or something. So, I never thought it was even something that might happen."

And if it should ...

"I don't know; I've never really thought about it," McCollum said. "During the season, we're just concentrating on how to get this team to win (every week). But who knows? If it happens, come ask me then."

Evaluating offensive linemen - particularly the interior positions - is difficult for all but the most skilled observers. The Rams ask more of their center than most teams, and McCollum handles the varied responsibilities with few glitches, said his position coach, John Matsko.

Beyond snapping the ball and blocking 300-pound-plus defenders, the Rams rely on McCollum to make adjustment calls at the line of scrimmage, a task that most NFL teams turn over to the quarterback. "He doesn't get stumped very often out there," Timmerman said.

"He's a student of the game," said Matsko, who has coached McCollum for nine years, six in St. Louis and three in New Orleans. "He understands our concepts, he understands what the matchups are, and he gets our people on the right people. It takes a lot of work to do that, and he's willing to pay the price during the week, invest the time, so that we're at our best on Sunday.

"Andy's been very dependable, extremely reliable ... you trust him."

Said veteran guard Chris Dishman: "It's a lot more mental than people think, and that's the biggest difference between a center and a guard or a tackle. They really have to know their game, and they basically tell us which way to go. They set the defenses up. ... He's easy to work with, and he communicates really well on the field."

McCollum holds a sports administration degree from the University of Toledo and was an academic All-Mid-American Conference first-teamer. He said the cerebral demands of the position appeal to him.

"You look at film all week long and you see what they do and what they've done," he said. "A lot of times they'll come up with new stuff against us, because we do so many different things (on offense). You've got to come up with a way to block it when you're out there on the field, and you've only got a few seconds to do so.

"I enjoy that kind of thing. ... Well, I enjoy it when we get it done right."

Rookie Larry Turner, who backs up McCollum, said there's more to the package than just a sharp mind. "At center, you've got a great big guy sitting right there in your face," Turner noted. "You can't go up and just bull a guy, because he'll swing you this way or rip you that way. You've got to have good feet and good hands, and you've got to be able to stay in a perfect football position.

"You've got to have good technique, and Andy's a perfect technician."

Hardly perfect, McCollum insisted. "Every week there's something out there that I screw up, something that I could fix, something that I could do better," he said. "I try to go into the next week of practice with a goal to correct those things."

After the Rams signed free-agent center Dave Wohlabaugh, McCollum started all 16 games last year at left guard. When Wohlabaugh was ruled out for the 2004 season because of a hip ailment, McCollum moved back to center - to his relief.

"I enjoy it more at center," he said. "With the guys that we have, we get along great. They know what I'm talking about, even if do it real late or if I spit out some call that isn't perfect. It works out great."