By Kathleen Nelson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/07/2006

Tony Palmer can feel the heat.

As an All-Big 12 guard for the University of Missouri, Palmer grew accustomed to training camps in triple-digit temperatures and tropical humidity. As a seventh-round draft pick trying to make the Rams' 53-man roster, he feels an increase in intensity as well.

"I don't remember it being quite this hot in Columbia," Palmer said. "But we've learned to fight through it here, not let it factor into how we practice. I think the real reason it seems hotter this year is because we're working so much harder, going up against the best of the best on every single play."

Palmer is a positive guy, so he sees the good in the increased intensity and urgency of camp. "You get so many more reps in two-a-days than in minicamps. It really helps you feel comfortable."

The comfort factor is integral to Palmer's development, according to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. He noted that Palmer was blessed with size and strength, but said, "He's not always sure of himself, so his strength and size can be nullified."

Boudreau, who coached the Jaguars' offensive line from 2003 to 2005, said Palmer's progress toward a roster spot was like many a rookie. "He's miles away, but before he was millions of miles away," Boudreau said. "I think in the beginning, he was a little overwhelmed. He's more confident, and he's doing things at a faster pace. But when you put the ball down in a scrimmage, you want it to carry over."

Palmer noted that Boudreau and assistant line coach Jim Chaney had gotten on him for "bear hugging too much. I got called for holding. You just can't do that." But he characterized Saturday's scrimmage overall as "pretty good. I'm trying to correct little things in my technique: hand placement, how I move my feet."

Boudreau noted that the learning curve for a rookie was steep but that expectations could be tempered for lower-round draft choices. "It's almost too much to hope to find a diamond," he said. "You look for one redeeming quality to build on. Then you work on fixing weaknesses. If you have what Tony has, power and strength, you have to use it by playing faster."

In addition to strength and a sunny disposition, Palmer displays the diplomat's touch. When asked to name the toughest teammate to line up against, he said: "All of them. They're all different, but they're all tough. You have to learn little ways to block each of them a little differently."

The next chance for Palmer to shine comes Thursday, when the Rams play their first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at the Edward Jones Dome. His parents, Richard and Adrienne Gaines, will get their first glimpse of him in a Rams uniform, and Palmer said he would be happy to have a support network close at hand. He said that he talked to them twice a week and that they always remind him "to keep God first. Through him all things are possible."