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Offensive Line Bruised and Battered
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
First it was the receiver corps then it was the secondary. Now, it’s the Rams’ offensive line that is taking a beating and searching for bodies.
The offensive line has seen its share of injuries in the past few years, some serious and some not. But rarely have the Rams been forced to dig as deep into the depth chart as they have the past two weeks.
In fact, things looked so dire last week that the Rams called up tackle Matt Morgan from the practice squad. If possible, things are going to be even more difficult this week when, it appears, Morgan might be forced to play.
Although the status of the offensive line won’t be decided until closer to game time, interim coach Joe Vitt said the Rams will have to make do with whatever group they put on the field.
“I’m kind of weather beaten right now, nothing surprises,” Vitt said. “This team has responded well to adversity, they take the game very seriously. We are going to play the hand we’re dealt. It’s all we can do.”
The hand the Rams are getting from the dealer isn’t exactly a royal flush. St. Louis has two starting linemen on the injury report with another valuable utility piece joining them.
Unfortunately for the Rams, the two starters are bookend tackles Orlando Pace and rookie Alex Barron. Pace, of course, is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and any time missed on his part will be dangerous to the health of whoever is playing quarterback.
Barron has given the Rams the long-awaited stability they need on the right side and shown flashes of becoming a Pro Bowl level tackle in the future.
Pace battled a hamstring injury last week and was a game time decision against the Texans. Pace played, but didn’t do much to remedy the situation. Actually, Pace’s status is worse now than it was before that game.
"I think I re-aggravated it a little bit,” Pace said after the game. “And I have a hip flexor, or something like that. I think I was trying to overcompensate for the hamstring, and ended up kind of banging my hip up a little bit. I could barely move out there.”
Pace played most of the first half before missing the rest of the game because of the pain. He is listed as questionable for this week’s game against Washington because of the injuries. Pace didn’t participate in any of Wednesday’s practice, but Vitt said he expects his star left tackle to be ready to go.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” Vitt said. “We gave him a little bit of time off. He may come out and do some stuff tomorrow afternoon and I think he’ll be ready for Friday.”
When Pace left the game against the Texans, Barron slid over to the left side and filled in admirably, even earning the praise of Vitt for his performance under duress. Apparently the impact of playing in Pace’s place was more difficult than anyone knew at the time.
While his teammates were getting dressed and heading to the bus, Barron was having his thumb and hand examined. Barron’s thumb had what is believed to be torn ligaments and he is expected to have surgery on the thumb as soon as tonight or tomorrow.
“I don’t even know what it was,” Barron said. “I just know it happened, I came to the sideline and checked it out and something was wrong with it. I just finished the game.
“It’s a little disappointing. Nobody ever wants to have surgery or anything like that. It’s just one of those things you have to take care of.”
Barron is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday because of the injury, but Vitt ruled him out for this week after Wednesday’s practice. Barron also sat out the entirety of that workout.
With Barron and Pace watching the practice, the Rams were unable to turn to old reliable utility man Blaine Saipaia, who has struggled to overcome the lingering effects of a concussion suffered two weeks ago against Arizona.
Saipaia said it’s hard to not be able to help his team when it needs him, but he has to look at the big picture.
“It’s tough, particularly on a personal level,” Saipaia said. “It’s tough to sit there and watch practice when you know the guys are hurt and trying to battle through it. It’s not like I banged an elbow or shoulder or knee or anything. It’s my noggin and I have got to take serious consideration to that. I have got a family that I have got to think about. That’s the hard part, but I know my family is the most important thing. If I have to sit out then I have to sit out. But I’ll support my teammates in whatever fashion I can.”
Saipaia did participate in some drills during the practice, but he is still not allowed to participate in contact drills.
In the absence of Pace, Barron and Saipaia, the Rams have continued to dig into the depth chart for bodies on the line. That means that St. Louis had Morgan and Rex Tucker lining up at the tackle spots Wednesday with Morgan on the left side and Tucker on the right.
Morgan was active for the first time in his young career against Houston, but did not get into the game. He has never played in a regular season game and has spent the past two seasons on the Rams practice squad. Morgan likely wouldn’t play unless both Pace and Barron can’t go, but Vitt said he likes some of the improvements he has seen in Morgan recently.
“I think he’s gotten better,” Vitt said. “I think he has taken his game a lot more seriously. He’s got good balance; he’s got a nice anchor to him. He’s got pretty good hand placement. He studies hard. I think he’s got a chance to have a good future in the National Football League. In the immediate future, if he needs to go in there, he’ll be prepared.”
Tucker isn’t exactly a beacon of tackle experience himself. He started the first game of the season on the right side before being sidelined by a calf injury that kept him out of action until Oct. 30 against Jacksonville.
Tucker is a guard by trade, but was moved to tackle in the preseason and struggled some in his time with the Rams. Tucker filled in on the right side after Barron switched to the left against the Texans and had an up and down day.
The learning of a new position is an ongoing process for the veteran Tucker.
“Every time you’re out there presents its own difficulties and challenges,” Tucker said. “That’s the way it will always be.”
Assuming Pace plays, the Rams will likely start Pace at left tackle with rookie Claude Terrell at left guard, Andy McCollum at center, Adam Timmerman at right guard and Tucker at right tackle.
Of course, that could change at any time. Terrell has a sprained wrist and has battled injury problems at times. Timmerman has had back issues this season, though it hasn’t cost him any time.
One more option could have Timmerman taking snaps as the right tackle with Larry Turner working at right guard. Timmerman started three games at right tackle in 2002.
-11-30-2005 #2Overalls Guest
Re: Offensive Line Bruised and Battered
For a team that is used to giving up a lot of sacks, it was nice to see the Texans get the franchise record for sacks against the Rams.
-11-30-2005 #3Rampage39 Guest
Re: Offensive Line Bruised and Battered
chances are Pace will play so it won't be that bad. but we have to keep a TE to help no matter what.