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  1. #1
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    Cool O Line in trouble ?

    O-line components are out of sync as Rams camp nears
    By Bill Coats

    Of the Post-Dispatch

    When the Rams assemble Wednesday morning for their first training camp practice, the offensive line will be far from intact: Left tackle Orlando Pace will be absent, center Dave Wohlabaugh will be on the sideline, and right tackle Kyle Turley will be trying to chip away rust.

    "We've got a lot of work to do," coach Mike Martz said.

    No area is of greater importance for the Rams. Without a solid line, the team will be hard-pressed to produce the kind of numbers that led to a 56-24 regular-season record and four playoff appearances over the last five years.

    That's not to suggest that this year's unit won't perform effectively. But with Pace embroiled in another contract dispute, Wohlabaugh still experiencing hip pain after offseason surgery, and Turley recovering from a back operation that kept him out of minicamp practices and has limited his workouts, the O-line is in flux as the team heads for Western Illinois University in Macomb.

    Here's a look at each of those situations:

    Pace missed the first month of camp last year before reluctantly signing a one-year, $5.73 million tender as the club's franchise player. He again has the franchise tag, but his agent, Carl Poston, has been negotiating with Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt on a multiyear contract.

    Martz said he expects Pace, a reigning All-Pro, "to be at camp probably a little sooner than he was last year. I think he understands the effect it has on this team. And also, no matter how hard he thinks he's training, it's not the same. It takes awhile to get going."

    Wohlabaugh started all 17 games last season despite the nagging hip problem. Martz said the Rams would be cautious with the nine-year NFL veteran and wait for the discomfort to ease.

    Turley, the team's major offseason acquisition in 2003, improved steadily, particularly with his pass-blocking, after struggling early in the season. "Kyle brings a toughness and a nastiness," offensive line coach John Matsko said. "And he's got tremendous leadership. Kyle leads by performance; he does his talking with his headgear, elbows and shoulder pads."

    Beginning his second year in the Rams' system should be an asset for Turley. "Normally, it makes a big difference," Martz said. "It's an advantage coming into camp that he's had this stuff, but also, he's missed an awful lot in the offseason. . . . It won't be easy for Kyle. It's not going to be like getting on a bike again; it just doesn't work that way."

    Veteran Adam Timmerman returns at right guard. With Wohlabaugh out, Andy McCollum moves to center from left guard, and Andy King, a second-year pro from Illinois State who has yet to appear in a regular-season contest, is listed No. 1 at left guard. Grant Williams figures to get most of the reps at left tackle until Pace shows up.

    So, the offensive line that jogs onto the field Wednesday probably won't resemble the one that will face the Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season opener Sept. 12 at the Edward Jones Dome. And the sooner the starters are in place, the faster the unit will develop, Matsko said.

    "It's very important to come together," he said. "When you go to training camp, what you want to do is develop the toughness in your offensive line, the mental and physical toughness, that you've got to play with to win a championship. You develop the confidence and killer instinct.

    "In the preseason, you're trying to call us that offensive line's knuckles. And that's going to be our approach."

    Matsko, who also is Martz's associate head coach, had been sharing the O-line duties with Jim Hanifan, who retired after last season. John Benton was hired to assist Matsko.

    Besides the individual concerns, two other questions arise: Is the line, which averages just over 31, getting a bit too old to function at a high level? And can it rebound from a so-so showing?

    Though the Rams ranked ninth among the 32 NFL teams in total offense last year, their running game took a strong downturn. Rams ballcarriers produced just 3.6 yards per carry, the team's lowest average in five years and a half-yard shy of its '02 production.

    Part of the reason, of course, was the hand injury that sidelined top back Marshall Faulk for five games. He wound up with 818 rushing yards, the second-lowest total of his 10-year career, and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. His average in his first four seasons with the Rams was 5.2.

    Another concern is protecting Marc Bulger, who goes into camp as the No. 1 quarterback for the first time. Bulger was sacked 37 times last year, a total exceeded by only two other quarterbacks, and he didn't even play in the opener, when the New York Giants decked Kurt Warner six times.

    The health of Bulger, who missed four games in 2002 with hand, back and neck injuries but went the last 16 games without a problem last year, is paramount to the team's success. Bulger is backed up by 38-year-old Chris Chandler, with rookie Jeff Smoker expected to fill the No. 3 slot.

    "I think there's a bit of an emotional attachment with that offensive line and Marc," Martz said. "It's almost like a little brother kind of a deal. There's a real connection there, just a chemistry that's happened. I think it's very healthy and very good."

  2. #2
    UtterBlitz's Avatar
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    Re: O Line in trouble ?

    Well this article doesn't make me feel very good about the O line. They are pretty beat up. We need Pace to sign earlier this year. It would be nice if he would be a team player and think about stepping in before the season starts.

  3. #3
    Curly Horns's Avatar
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    Re: O Line in trouble ?

    Just great. Not good news at all. Pace is a bum and wohlabaugh and turley are crippled.


  4. #4
    txramsfan's Avatar
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    Re: O Line in trouble ?

    Ahhh the offseason. Pace isn't a bum. He also isn't a saint either but name me one player outside of Warner that is even close? He'll be there the last week of camp, when Turley and Wohlobaugh are both healthy. They will be ok. We open up this year at home, which should help the O line in this opening game as opposed to last year.

    Yes, it is a concern but I'm not real worried about it. Now, about the D line......LOL

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