Offensive line looks just fine for St. Louis


BY HAL PILGER
STAFF WRITER


ST. LOUIS - It has been one of the biggest questions of training camp for the St. Louis Rams.



The players may be too young to remember the old TV show, "What's My Line?" but fans, media and even the coaches have been pondering that question for weeks.

Thanks to injuries, departed players and offensive tackle Orlando Pace's failure to make it to camp once again, the Rams have had to mix and match line players on both sides of the ball.

Even though Thursday night's 13-10 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears was nothing more than the first preseason game for both teams - and, of course, new Bears coach Lovie Smith's triumphant return to St. Louis - the Rams are breathing a little easier regarding their lines.

Especially their offensive line.

"They came through fine," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "I really watched the offensive line the first half as much as I could. We just tried to stay kind of generic and just tried to let them have a chance to play a little bit."

Martz seldom gives out tons of preseason praise, but he was pleased with several members of his offensive line.

"We were able to play the first half with Adam (Timmerman, right guard); he hung in there pretty good with it," Martz said. "(Right tackle Scott) Tercero, I thought, played very well. I was very pleased with his performance."

And Martz talked about one other member of that offensive line - third-year player Andy King of Lincoln, who was making his first NFL start - preseason or any season.

"He looked pretty good," Martz said. "Obviously, when he was in there he did a nice job.

"I thought the protections held up very well. We went down to the red zone and sputtered a little bit, but that's more what we were doing than anything else."

Throughout the first half, first for starting quarterback Marc Bulger and then for veteran backup Chris Chandler, the offensive line afforded the necessary protection. No glaring holes with defenders pouring through. Very few missed or misplayed assignments. An offensive line any NFL quarterback could be comfortable playing behind.

"They did a fantastic job," said Bulger, who was 3-for-6 for 57 yards in his only series of the game. "I didn't feel any pressure.

"I think the one sack at the end (of the Rams' first-quarter drive) was on a hot route, but I think Lovie (the former Rams defensive coordinator) had something set up for us there," Bulger added with a grin.

Chandler, who was 8-for-9 with one interception on a ball that was stripped away from his receiver, agreed with Bulger about the line.

"I think the guys up front did a great job, and our receivers made some great catches," Chandler said.

But what did King think about his play and the play of his line?

"I thought that we played pretty well together," King said. "I thought we really jelled, and the protection was good."

King, the former Lincoln High School and Illinois State University standout, said he realizes it's very early and there is much to be learned and accomplished by an offensive line that needs time to play as a unit.

"It's going to take the rest of these preseason games to get all of us playing real well together," King said. "I think once we get the line solidified to exactly who's going to be playing vs. Arizona on opening day, we'll be better off.

"We've got a couple games left to get that down. But, overall, I thought we played real well.''

King has played in six regular-season games the past two years, but this was by far his most extensive duty. Was it different for King to prepare mentally for a game he knew he was going to start?

"It's hard to say," King said. "I want to say yes, because you know you're starting. You know you're going to be in there. But, on the other hand, I've had to prepare like I was going to play every time I came into this stadium or any other stadium, for that matter, just 'cause you never know.

"I try to prepare every time, like I was starting. Just like Coach Martz says, you've got to think of yourself as a starter on this team, or you're not going to make it. That's what I've tried to do, so I'm going to continue to do that whether I'm starting or not."

The most unusual feeling Thursday night, King said, wasn't knowing he was going to play in the first half. Rather, it was knowing he probably wasn't going to play in the second half.

"I was walking out in the second half, and I wasn't going out to play, 'cause some of the other guys were going to play the second half," King said. "I commented to one of our strength coaches that it was weird to be walking out at halftime in preseason not getting ready to play.

"Usually I'm walking out ready in that third quarter to go out there and play. It was a little bit different feeling there at halftime."

Such is the life of a starter during the preseason. Of course, if King is able to maintain his starting position when the regular season kicks off, he'll be seeing plenty of playing time in both halves.

"It was good to get that first half in and play with those guys," King said. "I really enjoyed it."

Apparently, Martz enjoyed watching those guys play. And he will enjoy King's attitude about going back to Macomb and training camp.

"We've got about another week there to get some more practices in, get this offensive line playing even better together," King said. "You know, maybe step up this run game a little bit more, and get ready to go against the Chiefs (a week from Monday in Kansas City)."

So preseason Game One went by without an offensive line disaster. And as for the Rams' defensive line?

"I was very pleased with the effort of the defensive line," Martz stated. "They were able to get some pressure (including four sacks)."

In the end, it was a special teams gaffe - allowing the Bears' Ahmad Merritt to return the overtime opening kickoff 87 yards - that set up Paul Edinger's winning 25-yard field goal.

But when the game was on the line, the Rams were on their game.

Hal Pilger can be reached at 788-1548 or hal.pilger@sj-r.com.