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Prisco on Bulger ...
Camp tours: Rams' Bulger finally lands big cash, respect
Aug. 24, 2007
By Pete Prisco
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Marc Bulger looks like a kid throwing passes for the local high school. He isn't big, doesn't have a rocket for an arm and when you sit down with him off the field, a baseball cap on his head, you half expect to hear him say he's late for a senior English class.
Maybe that's why Bulger, the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, doesn't get his due. There is nothing eye-opening about the way he plays the game. He doesn't have the theatrics at the line of a Peyton Manning or the Tom Brady gun or the size of a Carson Palmer.
But Bulger does have something those guys have: numbers and money.
The numbers say he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The money verifies it. Before the start of training camp, Bulger signed a six-year, $65-million deal that puts him in the top five quarterbacks in terms of pay.
Not bad for a guy who was cut by the New Orleans Saints in his first attempt to make the league without ever getting the chance to throw a pass in team drills that summer.
"I can finally not have to worry about the stuff that stinks about the NFL," Bulger said during a sitdown in the cafeteria at the Rams Park facility. "I don't have to worry about any of that stuff. That hasn't happened since I played high school ball. I'm just playing ball again.
There's a lot more pressure, but there's none of that stuff where I'm wondering if I get hurt if they would hold it against me in contract talks. I can play football and not worry about any of that."
To travel the road Bulger has been forced to travel has made him a little jaded, and understandably so. Wouldn't you be if you were told so many times that you couldn't make it?
After a stellar career at West Virginia, he wasn't drafted until the sixth round by the Saints. He was subsequently cut without a real chance, lost in a crowded field of not-so-great quarterbacks. He went home to Pittsburgh, and was offered a job in the now-defunct XFL.
"I knew I was better than a lot of quarterbacks drafted ahead of me," Bulger said. "There was no way I was playing in that league. I knew I could play in the NFL."
His break came one Sunday while he attended a Steelers game. During the game, he and his buddies heard that Rams quarterback Kurt Warner had injured a finger. Having already worked out for Rams coach Mike Martz, Bulger thought something might happen the next day.
"I think I could be getting a call," he told his friends.
The call came and the Rams brought Bulger in as a practice-squad quarterback. They let him go when Warner got healthy and he briefly toyed with the idea of signing with Atlanta, but the Rams told him he'd get a $20,000 bonus after that season if he waited.
"That was a lot of money then," Bulger said.
Now it's tip money.
Bulger came to the Rams at a time when Warner was thriving, winning MVP honors and leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.
Bulger would have to wait some more. The chip on his shoulder continued to grow, and it really didn't disappear until he received his contract this summer.
"I really did have a chip," Bulger said. "Because the Saints cut me, I wished they'd lose every game. I don't do that anymore. I've gotten rid of the chip. I wouldn't be starting here if people didn't believe in me."
When he did take over for Warner, it was a tough act to follow. Rams fans adored Warner's rags-to-riches story. Plus, he was open and accessible. Bulger was more closed off, a humble, quiet kid who didn't let a lot of people into his circle.
Bulger said he'd walk around and often hear people say this: "You're not Kurt."
That can take a toll on a player, which helped the chip grow even bigger. Eventually, though, Bulger has won over the fans. His constant ability to move the Rams through the air has warmed the city to him.
Last year he sizzled, getting career highs in completions (370), yards (4,301) and touchdown passes (24).
So how does he get it done? What are the secrets to the success of a quarterback who is clearly underwhelming in terms of the raw skills needed to play the position?
Watching him practice, wearing the yellow No. 10 jersey, you'd hardly believe this was the quarterback with the fifth-highest passer rating in NFL history. He looks frail, the ball doesn't come out like a rocket and he doesn't move all that well.
So here's the secret: He's deadly accurate.
"He has unbelievable accuracy and timing," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "He'll throw it into a spot that most people wouldn't dare throw it."
Bulger also knows how to read the field. He said a lot of that has to do with his physical limitations.
"Not being able to run and having a big arm has helped me because I can't wait until the last second and just fire something in there," Bulger said. "And I can't look at one read and run because I can't run. I had to learn my progressions and understand why people are doing things on defense. That goes along with the best thing I can do. I have a lot of faults, but accuracy is the one thing I do have. If I can stand there and have time, I can put it where I want."
Despite his success, doubters still say he's a good quarterback who has played in great systems with great players, rather than a great quarterback. I used to think that once, but no more. He's an elite passer now.
Even Linehan admitted he wondered the same thing before taking over as the Rams coach in 2006.
"I think I wondered how much of it was the personnel around him," Linehan said. "Although the personnel around him is really, really special, I kind of changed my mind. You still have to have a guy who can get the balls to those guys. Kurt Warner did it in a very, very special way. Marc doesn't have the Super Bowls yet, but he did it his way and there wasn't a dropoff. I have a lot more respect for him now."
So do I. After talking to him, I do so even more. Here's a self-made star who still seems as down to earth as sixth-round pick hoping for a chance. The book on Bulger is that he is guarded and doesn't open up too much. But on the day I talked to him, he was anything but.
He was funny and informative. When I brought up the fact that he was from Dan Marino's high school, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, meaning he'll always be the second-best quarterback from that school, he laughed.
"I gave up on No. 1 a long time ago," Bulger said.
Bulger also mentioned how he's in the process of collecting signed jerseys from all the Pittsburgh-area quarterbacks. He recently added a signed Johnny Unitas jersey and has a Jim Kelly, Marino and others. He's still working on the Joe Montana autograph, he said.
As he talked, sitting there in his baseball cap, he sounded like a high-school kid, the excitement of it all easily readable on his face.
But don't be fooled. This is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, a deadly accurate passer who finally has shed the chip that has weighed him down for so long. What a great story his is, not unlike Brady, not unlike Warner.
"It is something," Bulger said. "But I never stopped believing."
He got up and walked away and all I could think that he looked like a high-school kid rushing to get a ride home from dad. Hard to believe this was really Marc Bulger, NFL quarterback -- make that star quarterback.
Out of Nowhere Man
LB Quinton Culberson
Although he led Mississippi State in tackles, Culberson was not drafted in April. Some scouts thought he was too slow. But in camp he has played the run well and he's also swift enough to be a factor in the passing game. He played eight plays against the Chargers and had six tackles. Look for him to make the team and help out on special teams and maybe eventually see time late in the season on defense.
'06 Rewind: OL Richie Incognito
Miles from Nowhere: Despite a load of anger issues Buddy Rydell wouldn't be able to fix, Richie Incognito went on to play in all 16 games for the Rams at guard last season and was a key cog in an offensive line that helped tailback Steven Jackson lead the league in total yards. If he stays out of trouble, he'll be a mainstay in St. Louis for years to come.
Re: Prisco on Bulger ...
Glad to hear people starting to come around and give bulger his props its a shame some people don't consider him an elite QbTorry Holt Dont play that
Re: Prisco on Bulger ...
Lets hope he stays humble, continues to win over his team members and show that he belongs in an elite group throughout his career.
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