Sunday, September 30, 2007

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

IRVING , Tex. – While coach Scott Linehan and Co. are quick to dismiss injuries as a reason for the team’s early season struggles, it’s hard to look past what has seemingly been an unprecedented run of bad luck that has led to one of the lengthiest injury lists in the NFL.



Entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, the Rams were already without running back Steven Jackson (groin), cornerback Tye Hill (back), guard Richie Incognito (ankle), left tackle Orlando Pace (shoulder), guard Mark Setterstrom (knee) and that was just the starters.

One would think things could only get better in terms of injuries considering the length of that list, but somehow they seemed to get worse for a Rams team that could use as much help as possible.



“We are the walking wounded right now,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “We have a lot of guys injured but that’s why you are NFL players. Second team guys have to step up and make plays. We have a lot of guys injured right now, but hopefully guys will come back and play next week and we can try to get our first win.”



Even Little wasn’t immune Sunday, though. Little suffered a right knee strain late in the game. Little stayed in the game, but said he will have an MRI on Monday to see if there is any severe damage to the knee.



“I went back out there and played, but I don’t know,” Little said. “I am ready to go whenever they call me to play no matter what. I am going to get it checked out tomorrow. It should be fine.”



Early indications are that Little was actually one of the lucky ones. Right tackle Adam Goldberg suffered what Linehan called a left knee sprain. But in the locker room after the game, Goldberg indicated he thought there might be a tear and there’s a chance he could miss an extended period.



Brandon Gorin replaced Goldberg at right tackle and it appears yet another line combination will take its place in front of Bulger next week one way or another.



Linebacker Raonall Smith suffered an injury similar to Goldberg’s, only it was his right knee. He left the game after a special teams play and did not return.



Strong safety Corey Chavous suffered a pectoral injury that is being called a strain but could be worse and cause him to miss time as well.

Receiver Isaac Bruce suffered a left hamstring strain. It didn’t appear to be as serious as the others, but he will be evaluated Monday as well.



The most serious injuries belong to Smith, Goldberg and Chavous. All three will likely miss extended time with the possibility of season ending ailments.



Dane Looker, meanwhile, suffered maybe the scariest of the injuries as he has swelling in his leg that could cut off circulation. He stayed behind to spend the night at the Baylor University medical center as a precautionary measure.



All told, it would be hard to find a team in the league with more injuries to more important players. And though Linehan still won’t use it as an excuse, it’s easy to see why the Rams are struggling to find their first win.



“I’m sick and tired of losing,” Linehan said. “I think everybody else in our locker room would tell you the same. Injuries seem to be a part of the game that we have had our share of but we have got to find ways to win football games.



“If you guys had about five hours, I could give you a whole bunch of excuses, but we are not going to go there. We have to find a solution to the problem.”



DONNIE’S DAY: If there’s one area the Rams don’t need to find a solution to a problem it is at the punter position for it appears they have finally found the leg for the long term they have needed since arrival in St. Louis.



Donnie Jones has quietly pieced together an excellent season, but just how good he has been was not on full display until Sunday’s game.

With the offense struggling, Jones got plenty of chances to showcase his talent.



“Each week I go to practice and work game situations,” Jones said. “Ultimately Sunday is a test and you go out and just execute. Punting the ball is about field position. You try to give your team the best possible field position to work with.”



Jones finished the game with eight attempts for 442 yards, an average of 55.3 per attempt with a net average of 44.6. He pinned the Cowboys inside the 20 on four occasions (one of which started at the Dallas 1 and another that was dead at the Dallas 2) and had a long of 66 yards.



FIRST THINGS FIRST: Rookie running back Brian Leonard made his starting debut as an NFL back Sunday with mixed results.

By all accounts, Leonard ran well and ran hard on his way to a 58-yard performance on 16 carries. He added a catch for a yard.

Linehan praised Leonard’s effort in the game’s aftermath, but Leonard was his own biggest critic.



“I made some rookie mistakes,” Leonard said. “I have to go back and look at film and get coached up on it. As a whole, I think I did all right, but it wasn’t good enough to win so it’s nothing.”



RAM BITS: Inactives for the Rams on Sunday were Hill, Jackson, Incognito, linebacker Tim McGarigle, offensive lineman Jeremy Parquet, defensive tackle Louis Leonard, tight end Dominique Byrd and third quarterback Marques Hagans…Dante Hall’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first by a Ram since Dre Bly on Dec. 15, 2002 and the first return of any kind for a score since Chris Johnson brought a kickoff back against Seattle in 2005…Kicker Jeff Wilkins’ miss from 28 yards out in the first half was his first miss inside 30 yards since the season finale on Jan. 1, 2006 (the last game of the 2005 season).