By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, Jan. 05 2005

Will there be a changing of the (left) guard Saturday in Seattle?

During his regular Wednesday press conference at Rams Park, coach Mike Martz
all but declared rookie Larry Turner the starter against Seattle. When the
official injury report came out in the afternoon, Tom Nutten was listed as
doubtful with a left knee injury.

But while Turner took the reps with the starters at left guard in practice,
Nutten was running on the side. And running surprisingly well, which caused
Martz to change his tune after practice.

"Tommy may play this week," Martz said. "He's going to practice (Thursday), so
we'll see. There's a real chance we'll have him up. I was very, very
surprised."

According to Martz, Nutten has a torn medial collateral ligament in the knee.
He played with the injury for a few weeks but, after aggravating it in
mid-December, did not play against Arizona.

Nutten was back in the lineup against Philadelphia on Dec. 27 and played well.
But he suffered another setback late in the third quarter against the New York
Jets on Sunday and didn't return.

"I think half the pile came down on the outside of my knee," Nutten said. "I
felt something in there and right away knew that was it for the day."

He was still walking with a limp Monday but said the knee felt a lot better. By
Wednesday, it felt well enough to test the knee with some running.

Normally, if a Rams player doesn't practice during the week, he doesn't play on
the weekend. But with the playoffs at hand, Martz sounds willing to take things
down to the wire if necessary with Nutten.

"If he goes out in pregame and practices well, he'll play," Martz said. "He's
just got too much experience and is too good a player."

Despite having rust to knock off after being out of football last season,
Nutten, 33, remains a savvy pass blocker and an effective run blocker. He has
started seven playoff games as a Ram, including two Super Bowls, and that kind
of experience is invaluable this time of year.

Nutten was talked out of retirement by the Rams in late August and had to get
his weight back up to the 300-pound level. Then he battled a turf toe problem
after just a week with the club. Just when it seemed he was over the nagging
turf toe injury, along came the knee problem.

But there aren't many players on the squad who don't have some kind of ailment
this far into the season.

"It seems like the season is gruelingly long," Nutten said. "And I was
fortunate enough not to have to go through training camp. But the season's just
long and epic, it seems. And then all of a sudden, here we make it to the
playoffs. It seems like everybody's banged up. But refreshed. You know what I
mean?"

Veteran players seem to find a way to play through the pain at playoff time.
But there are limits.

"The way I always looked at it, and the way I was brought up, I'm a team
player," Nutten said. "If I feel I'm not 100 percent, or can't contribute as
much as I should, then I'm not going to risk (doing something) for my own
benefit. It's what's best for the team."

Prudently, the Rams are planning and preparing as if Nutten won't be in the
lineup Saturday at Qwest Field. "Coach told me, basically, that I'll be
starting this week," said Turner, a seventh-round pick from Eastern Kentucky.

Other than the Arizona game, Turner's only playing time at left guard came in
the final one-plus quarters against the Jets after Nutten went down, plus some
mop-up duty late vs. Philadelphia.

"Against the Jets, I felt 10 times more comfortable than I did at Arizona,"
Turner said. "Just because I'd played before, and I knew what to kind of look
for.

"I'm getting some experience. Sunday was the best day I've had all year. Just
having fun and playing and talking trash and hitting guys. The crowd was
pumping me up."

The Rams explored another offensive line alternative in practice Wednesday,
having Blaine Saipaia work some at guard, with Grant Williams back at right
tackle. Saipaia has started five of the past seven games at right tackle, in
large part because Williams has been slowed by shoulder and elbow ailments. But
after not playing for the past month, Williams is relatively healthy and fresh.

"He's recovered," Martz said. "To have him in there would be a sense of relief
at this point. But then again, Blaine hasn't been at guard. I don't want to
short him out because he's really zeroing in out there at tackle."

Some information provided by Kathleen Nelson of the
Post-Dispatch staff.