By Howard Balzer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

MEQUON, Wis. -- These are the dog days of summer. And, even thought the weather is a whole lot better than it would be back in steamy St. Louis, it’s still very warm. Heck, it’s summer, so it’s supposed to be hot.

So, take 80 football players in pads for the first time since last December, have them hit each other for several hours a day in between numerous hours in meeting rooms, and surprise, surprise, players will get injured.

I chuckle when I hear fans trying to blame these normal summer injuries on the team’s conditioning staff, as if the Rams were the only team this was happening to. Several teams have already lost players for the season. The Patriots opened training camp with 12 players unable to practice.

The absurd 80-man limit this year has teams placing players on injured waivers a lot faster than normal because roster spots are needed for guys that can practice. So far, this offseason, including prior to the start of camps, 32 players have been waived injured. Last year, at this time, the total was 20.

Apparently trying to save some money, league owners refused to increase the camp roster to 85 to make up for the absence of NFL Europe exemptions that have existed for several years. Talk about penny wise and pound foolish. The last players on team rosters are paid about $1,000 a week during training camp. So, five extra players on rosters for a month would cost teams the whopping total of 20 grand, plus some travel money for the first two preseason games.

It will cost teams a lot more money than that as they reach injury settlements with players. Plus, never mind the 150-plus guys that would have opportunities in camp to make a team or practice squad. As players are held out of practice to preserve them, the remaining players will get added reps, which could lead to more injuries.

But, back to the Rams. Twelve players (not including Steven Jackson) did not practice Wednesday afternoon, and a few others were limited. With about 25 minutes left in practice, coach Scott Linehan brought his team to the center of the field for an important message.

“It was between myself and them,” Linehan said, “but more than anything, it was the hottest day we have had. It was a challenging day and there were a lot of guys taking a lot of extra reps, because of guys not being in there. Sometimes that’s the way it is going to be in games and you have to train yourself. It’s going to be like that. It’s going to be like that when we play on the road early in the heat. It’s going to be like that down in Tennessee next week and we need to get ourselves prepared.

“They have had so much volume that they are dealing with along with being tired and sore and all that, but that is part of your training and we are training ourselves to get prepared for the season ahead. This is where you do it and I’m really pleased with the effort we are getting from our team.”

Earlier in practice, during a passing drill, offensive coordinator Al Saunders wasn’t pleased with what he was seeing.

“There will be no compromising,” Saunders was heard saying. “None. Do it right, or you won’t be here. Do your job.”

Still, Linehan rewarded his team with a night of no meetings. They will have their first day off Sunday following a Saturday scrimmage.

“It is well deserved,” Linehan explained. “They have been working very hard and they need a little break. This gives them a little time to take their time and get some treatment and get away from the coaches.”


Added to the out-of-practice list Wednesday afternoon were wide receiver Drew Bennett (knee), cornerbacks Tye Hill (quad) and David Macklin (hamstring).

Linehan said most of the injured players won’t be out long. “Generally, this is the toughest week of training camp. It always is,” he said. “Some fatigue – we call them injuries – there’s guys who aren’t out there, but that will be temporary and will not be full time, which is positive, but we have a couple of guys who are banged up. By the time we get into next week, all of these guys who are out will start coming back.”

Of the 12 players out Wednesday, eight had muscle-related problems.


*Thursday morning, it’s goodbye to Mequon for 12 days. My journey hits the road to Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities. I’ll be there through the game Sunday night between Indianapolis and Washington, then hit the road Monday for Nashville, where the Rams will arrive Tuesday for two days of practice with the Titans, and then play Tennessee in the preseason opener Aug. 9. I’ll keep abreast of what’s going on with the Rams the next few days, while also providing reports from what is one of the great weekends in sports in Canton.

*Almost forgot to mention one of the most amazing signs I’ve seen along our nation’s roads. Heading back to Mequon from Bears camp Monday, I saw this sign near Kenosha: Bong Recreation Area. I can’t imagine what goes on there.