By Kathleen Nelson

Tony Palmer watched from the sidelines, helmet on his head.

"That's something I've been trained to do, throughout high school," said Palmer, one of the Rams' seventh-round draft choices hoping to make the team. "You never know when your number will be called, so I'm always ready."

Palmer, a former Mizzou star, was one of the few so ready. He was one of the few used so sparingly. Instead of manning his usual spot at guard, Palmer was assigned to special teams in the Rams' 27-20 exhibition loss to the Houston Texans at the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday.

"I wasn't aware that was all I was going to play," he said. "The coaches make a decision about what they're going to do, and that's what happened."

Coaches normally save the bulk of playing time in preseason games for players such as Palmer, those who aren't first-stringers but are trying to make the roster. The moment is theirs to seize. Palmer got less of a chance than some of the players with whom he is vying for reserve spots on the Rams' offensive line: Blaine Saipaia, Larry Turner and Ben Noll. But he fared better than teammates who saw no action: wide receiver Jeremy Carter, center Donovan Raiola and tackle Adam Haayer.

Palmer said he didn't want to read the coaches' minds and attributed his subdued mood not to a lack of playing time but to a lackluster loss in which the Rams managed just 61 yards rushing and lost more than 100 yards on sloppy penalties.

"Right now, I'm upset. Even though I didn't play, I still feel the pain that the team feels," Palmer said. "A loss is always disappointing, but you have to take the positive and learn from the negative. We'll go in and watch film and see the things that we can correct."

Though some of the mistakes could be considered maddening, Palmer expected little hand-wringing, cursing or screaming. By the morning after, he said, coaches are in an analytical mood, though they analyze ad nauseam.

"You look at every play, go over how the play was designed to run, try to learn from the mistakes that were made and look at the positives in the plays as well," he said. "There's not much time for yelling, since we have to get ready for Kansas City."

The Rams travel across the state to face the Chiefs on Saturday for the Governor's Cup. Far more important to the players, are roster spots. The game will be the last chance that the hopefuls have to impress the coaches before they cut the roster to 75 on or before August 29.

Meanwhile, Palmer said he would continue learning, making the most of practice and playing the traditional role of serf to the veterans.

"We've all had to either carry the veterans' pads or jerseys or helmets or things of that sort," he said. "You get them Gatorade in the weight room or a towel or something like that when they want it."

But the rookies have yet to be stuck with the bill for dinner with the vets, a time-honored tradition in some camps. Tampa Bay's draft picks treated the offensive line and quarterbacks to a night on the town last week that included limousines and separate stops for dinner and cocktails. The tab: $40,000.

"I'm glad we haven't done that yet," said Palmer, who earned a signing bonus of less than $30,000. "That can wait for a little while."

Perhaps he'll be in more of a celebratory mood if he plays -- and plays well -- Saturday in Kansas City.