Tuesday, August 30, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

After declaring this week’s starting offensive line his starters for the season, barring injury of course, coach Mike Martz was pleased with the way the unit performed in its first appearance together this season.

The Rams have cycled through a laundry list of combinations along the line that has included everyone from rookies to veterans in new positions to Blaine Saipaia, well, just about everywhere.

But when St. Louis sent out Orlando Pace (left tackle), Tom Nütten (left guard), Andy McCollum (center), Adam Timmerman (right guard) and Rex Tucker (right tackle) as the starting line, it was the first time this year the group got to play together.

Of course, this year doesn’t equal forever for a group that has four members that have played and played well together.

“This is the line that we are going to play the season with and this is the first time together,” Martz said. “That’s why we left them in to get them into playing shape. These guys have been playing together for a lot of years now. This is the first time we have had that group together healthy. I thought they played really well.”

The numbers bear out Martz’s point. The offense racked up 453 yards, most of which came with the starting unit in there. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the starting line went to the bench, but the skill position guys were out a little sooner.

It didn’t take long for the group to establish dominance in the ground game as Tucker blasted open a seam on the right side for running back Steven Jackson. Jackson scooted 64 yards down the sideline and the 37-13 route was on.

For Pace, Nütten, McCollum and Timmerman, it seemed like old times again as that group made up four/fifths of the starting line in the 2001 Super Bowl. Even the addition of Tucker doesn’t seem so strange considering how similar he is to brother Ryan Tucker.

“When you talk to Rex, the similarities are there,” Nütten said. “The way they look, the way they play. The big thing is it doesn’t matter who plays as long as we get the job done.”

Perhaps no player’s performance against the Lions was more impressive than that of Nütten. His return gives the Rams a solid pass blocker next to Pace and another veteran of which Martz feels comfortable with in the starting lineup.

“You can’t have guys on your team this many years that play at that level that have been through so many good things and not have some allegiance or get attached to them,” Martz said.

As long as the group can stay healthy and continue to play at the level it did Monday night, that attachment will be easy.

FIRST CUTS: The Rams released 13 players Tuesday afternoon in order to meet the league’s criteria of getting to 65 players today.

Normally, the team would have to trim 15 players, but a couple of things limited St. Louis to having to send only 13 on their way.

Cornerback Jerametrius Butler was officially placed on injured reserve and unsigned rookie Richie Incognito also doesn’t count on the 65, leaving the following 13 players out.

The biggest name on the list is tackle Grant Williams. Williams was the team’s starting right tackle for part of last season, but had been forced to deal with a number of injuries that limited him. He has missed most of this preseason with a back injury.

Joining Williams in release are: offensive tackle Matt Morgan, punter Bryan Barker, kicker Remy Hamilton, defensive ends Clifford Dukes and Vontrell Jamison, wide receivers Michael Coleman, Dante Ridgeway and Brandon Middleton, linebackers Louis Ayeni and Jeremy Loyd, tight end Erik Jensen and cornerback Duvol Thompson.

Of the group, only Jensen and Ridgeway were former draft picks of the team as the Rams selected Jensen in the seventh round of 2004 and Ridgeway in the sixth round this year.

Martz said he usually only tells the veterans he has a relationship with about the moves and allows the position coaches to deal with rookies, even though he hates having to do it at all.

“I’m a chicken,” Martz said. “I hate doing that. That’s the hardest thing in the world for me. If they talk to me long enough, they end up talking their way back on the team. I just can’t do it, not tough enough.”

The Rams must get down to the final 53 by next week.

MAKING THE GRADE: While those players were sent out of town for a variety of reasons, there have been some Rams who have made strides enough during the preseason to establish themselves on the roster.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is at the top of the list.

“He’s a good player,” Martz said. “Has he made this roster? Yea, he’s made this roster. He made this thing about three weeks ago.”

Fitzpatrick will likely be the No. 3 quarterback behind Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin. That leaves quarterback Jeff Smoker in limbo, but Martz said he wouldn’t discount the idea of having four signal callers.

Although Terry Fair suffered a bruised spinal chord in a collision that could have been a lot worse, he is also among those that appear safe to make the final 53.

“A week ago, I wasn’t sure if Terry makes this team,” Martz said. “Last week in practice, he made this team in my opinion. He made a significant jump. That’s with the injury. I was very pleased with his approach to everything.”

Martz also mentioned linebacker Drew Wahlroos as a pleasant surprise. If the Rams keep seven linebackers, Wahlroos has a chance to make the cut because of his special teams ability. Loyd’s release indicates that Wahlroos is in position to make the roster.

INJURY UPDATE: Fair stayed the night in Detroit at the Ford hospital, but he returned to St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon. All signs pointed to Fair being OK after what was nearly a devastating injury.

“We are all very pleased with the way that situation worked out,” Martz said. “You look at it on tape and it was a pretty substantial blow to the head. He’s recovered and doesn’t appear to have any structural damage whatsoever.”

Martz said Fair could be back on the field as early as next week. Other than Fair, there were no real serious injuries.

Quarterback Marc Bulger was hit directly on his right (throwing) hand and was shaken up slightly, but Martz said any swelling that occurred is gone.

“There is no fracture,” Martz said. “He was hit right on the hand. He’s fine.”

Running back Arlen Harris suffered a concussion Monday night, but there was no other damage. His status for this week remains in question and he probably won’t play unless he gets a completely clean bill of health.

Kicker Jeff Wilkins was shaken up early in the game when Lions safety Terrence Holt ran into him while offsides, but after limping to the sidelines; Wilkins came back to the field and did more kicking. Martz said Wilkins had no problems with the injury after the game and is fine. Judging by the release of Hamilton that appears to be the case.

LOVE FOR LARUSSA: When asked about the performance of Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa this season, Martz couldn’t help but heap praise on the manager of baseball’s winningest team.

“This is a special place in history and time with Tony managing,” Martz said. “I hope every fan out there can appreciate the job he has done regardless of who is on his roster and how they play baseball for him. When it’s all said and done, 15-20 years from now, you will look back at this man and realize that truly, he was a giant in his profession. Everybody should savor every minute he’s here in St. Louis, every second. That’s what I think of Tony.”