By Howard Balzer
Monday, August 18, 2008




It was a Saturday night in August last summer at the Edward Jones Dome, also against the San Diego Chargers, that Rams right guard Richie Incognito went down with a high ankle sprain. He would end up playing just four games the entire season, and that began a string of injuries in a 43-day time period that also knocked out linemen Todd Steussie, Orlando Pace, Mark Setterstrom and Adam Goldberg.


So, it would be understandable if, deep in his own mind, coach Scott Linehan might be wondering if some of the bad luck that hit his team in 2007 is primed and ready to start happening again. To Linehan’s credit, he refused to go there Saturday night after it was learned Setterstrom was lost for another season.


"People get hurt in football,” Linehan said. “Your gut hurts for the kid, but as a team you go to the next play. This is how we're going to respond to adversity this year. We're just going to keep playing. We're not going to get into that (pity party) deal."


That’s an admirable attitude, but the reality is that a potentially solid piece of the team’s line depth won’t be available. Setterstrom, who opened training camp as the starter at right guard, but then was sidelined early in camp by an injury to his right knee, suffered a fractured patella against the Chargers in the same knee (left) that he injured last year.


In addition, tackle Brandon Gorin, who was competing for a backup job, is also out for the season, and will need surgery to repair a labrum and rotator cuff issue in his shoulder. Gorin was injured against Tennessee Aug. 9.


Currently, the team’s starting line is comprised of left tackle Pace, left guard Jacob Bell, center Nick Leckey/Brett Romberg, right guard Incognito and right tackle Alex Barron. The loser of the center competition will be one backup, with the others likely being tackle/guard Adam Goldberg and rookies John Greco and Roy Schuening. Greco, a third-round pick, has been playing guard and tackle, while Schuening, a fifth-round choice, is a guard. Center/guard Dustin Fry is also in the mix, but could be headed to the practice squad again.


It appears another lineman won’t be signed for the final two preseason games because there are glaring depth needs at other positions.


Said Linehan, "We've got 13 available offensive linemen for the next two games. I think Tennessee had 12 available when we were in camp with them. And when I was at Minnesota, we would quite often go into training camp with 12 offensive linemen. … So assuming we don't have any more injuries at this point, we should be OK there."


That’s not the case in the secondary, especially at safety. Much could depend on the availability of Oshiomogho Atogwe, Jerome Carter, and Eric Bassey. They all missed practice last week and the game against San Diego. That resulted in Corey Chavous and Ron Bartell being forced to play safety in the second half Saturday night. International practice squad player Sebastian Sejean has also played a lot more than originally planned.


“He did well,” Linehan said of Sejean. “He is getting through that language barrier but he’s enjoying himself and he is working very hard. He’s been getting a lot of plays. I bet he’s playing a lot more than he expected when he got here.”


At running back, Brian Leonard won’t play against Baltimore Saturday night because of a shoulder injury, leaving the Rams with just Antonio Pittman, Travis Minor and Lance Ball available for practice this week and the game. If there are roster additions this week, it would likely be at running back and in the secondary with the possibility of a linebacker if some of the safeties are able to return. Rookie linebacker David Vobora will likely miss the final two preseason games with a badly sprained ankle.


BULGER’S SLOW STARTS

Even though the defense is normally ahead of the offense in the preseason, the rocky beginning for quarterback Marc Bulger understandably creates concern.


For now, Linehan isn’t worried. He said, "Marc's making a lot of progress. It's a new system, got some new players and all those things. As soon as we get our timing down, he's going to continue to play winning football for us. Right now, we've been a little off on a couple plays. He's got two tipped interceptions. … This is a precision game. Offense is timing, you've got to be right on. And we've just been off a couple clicks."


Slow summers haven’t been unusual for Bulger, even in 2006, when he passed for 4,301 yards, with 24 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and a passer rating of 92.9.


LINEHAN ON JACKSON

There was little movement over the weekend in the impasse between the Rams and running back Steven Jackson. Asked how quickly Jackson would be incorporated into the offense when he returns, Linehan said, “Right away. You’ve got to have a plan for how to get him ready for the opening game at this point, but there’s still a lot of time and he got a lot of good work in the offseason and has a good grasp of what we’re doing offensively. It’s just a matter of getting him in that football shape.”


However, Linehan added, “It is getting critical to where time now becomes more of an issue for just the physical part of getting ready for the opener. Every day we miss now … I know he’s working hard and I know he’s training and he’ll be in very good shape when he does get in, but it does start to factor in as to what the work load will be from the start.”