By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Tuesday, Aug. 31 2004

One of the reasons for Grant Williams' improved play this preseason is that he
is carrying around 30 fewer pounds.

"I definitely feel like I'm moving better laterally," Williams said. "There's a
lot less pressure on my back. I just feel better overall. The joints,
everything, feels better."

With that in mind, Williams is doing what he can to help teammate Chris Dishman
fight the battle of the bulge. For instance, when Williams sees Dishman
reaching for that extra roll at lunchtime at Rams Park ...

"We split it," Williams joked. "We're just sharing it right now."

Williams and Dishman are kindred spirits beyond dieting and nutrition. It is
looking more and more like they will be opening day starters on a revamped
offensive line. All five starters on the line were expected to return this
season, but the depth chart changed in a hurry once camp started.

"Just a few months ago we (thought), 'Yeah, everything should be intact,'"
offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "But that changed in a matter of a couple
weeks."

Hip problems led to the release of center Dave Wohlabaugh, who may retire.
Continuing back problems put right tackle Kyle Turley on the injured reserve
list, ending his season. Throw in left tackle Orlando Pace's continued absence
in a contract impasse, and it's been a tumultuous preseason for the line.

"Each year's different," offensive line coach John Matsko said. "The challenge
this year was to bring a bunch of guys together - we brought two guys out of
retirement - and develop the continuity, the unity, and the pride that you need
to have on an offensive line. It's an ongoing process."

The development of Dishman and Williams has helped that process. Williams has
spent most of the preseason at left tackle, which is Pace's position. But on
Monday and Tuesday, Williams practiced at right tackle, his position once Pace
shows up.

Left or right doesn't matter to Williams.

"I've made a career out of going back and forth," said Williams, a nine-year
NFL veteran in his third year with St. Louis. "So at this point, it's not a big
deal."

The big deal is that Williams has a chance to be a full-time starter for the
first time since 1999, the last of his four seasons in Seattle. Last preseason,
Williams did the heavy lifting at left tackle until Pace reported, suffering a
back injury in the process. But once Pace reported, Williams returned to the
bench.

It looked like the same thing would happen this summer. Then Turley aggravated
his back injury.

"All you can do is work hard, and see what happens," Williams said. "If you get
an injury, that's part of the deal. If an All-Pro tackle (Pace) comes in and
plays, then that's part of the deal, too."

Williams played with an ankle injury against Kansas City and Washington.

"There's no way Grant should have played against Kansas City," Matsko said.
"But he didn't want to let the guys down. 'Dish' was the same way Friday night.
He wasn't coming out."

Dishman suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against Washington but
kept playing at left guard.

Coach Mike Martz said Williams played his best game of the exhibition season
against Washington. As for Dishman, Martz said, "He took a significant step up.
He played exceptionally well in that game."

When Dishman ended his retirement and reported to camp on Aug. 5, he weighed
376 pounds, about 40 pounds more than his preferred playing weight.

He has already dropped about 20 pounds.

In the span of five days last week, he played into the fourth quarter against
Kansas City and played the entire game against Washington.

"Conditioning's not a factor for him now - in terms of lasting a game and
playing," Martz said. "Here's a guy that's a seven-, eight-year pro ... and he
sprained his ankle and didn't want to come out because he felt like he needed
the work. Go count the number of guys in the NFL that will do that."

Dishman said, "I definitely needed to go out and see where I was at. I wanted
to make sure I could finish the game. Conditioning-wise, I felt all right out
there."

Dishman has been held out of practice so far this week to rest the ankle, and
may not play Thursday in Oakland. But the injury is not considered serious.

How has he been able to bounce back from retirement so quickly?

"I don't know," Dishman said. "They're working me out pretty good here, and I'm
doing a lot of cardio, a lot of conditioning. Watching what I eat, stuff like
that."

And staying away from those extra rolls.

* * * * * * *

Projected Rams Starting Line

The Rams' probable starting offensive line once Orlando Pace returns from a
contract holdout:

C: Andy McCollum
RG: Adam Timmerman
RT: Grant Williams
LG: Chris Dishman
LT: Orlando Pace

Note: Williams will play left tackle and Scott Tercero right tackle
until Pace returns