By Jim Thomas

Regardless of the final score, the worst thing that can happen to a team in exhibition play is to lose a starter because of injury. The Rams had two scares Saturday night against Houston, but what has been a relatively injury-free preseason continued.

Wide receiver Torry Holt left the game with a bruised sternum, and defensive end Anthony Hargrove had an early exit because of an injured pinky finger. But X-rays of both injuries showed no broken bones.

Holt got the wind knocked out of him catching a 15-yard pass late in the first quarter. Originally it was thought to be a rib injury. Holt only missed three plays, because the St. Louis starting offensive unit was finished for the night at the end of the opening quarter.

Hargrove, who has been impressive on the practice field in camp, left on the previous series, and was replaced by Brandon Green.

Turk shines

It's looking more like the punting job belongs to veteran Matt Turk. He followed up a strong effort in the exhibition opener against Indianapolis with another impressive game Saturday against Houston. Turk punted four times for a 54-yard average in the first half before giving way to challenger Andy Groom.

"I thought he did great," Linehan said. "Matt's been doing real well recently. He's been really hitting it."

Trouble was, the coverage unit didn't match up to Turk's punts. Return man Phillip Buchanon took Turk punts for 32 and 33 yards in the second quarter. Both punts appeared to have good hang time, but Linehan said the first of those two could have had better hang time.

"But we've still got to get off our blocks and get in our coverage lanes," Linehan said. "We just basically got walled off and didn't have good coverage from our right."

Buchanon's first return -- the 32-yarder -- should not have happened. Turk initially pinned the Texans back at the 5 with a beautifully executed coffin corner kick. But an illegal-man-downfield penalty against Green forced a re-kick. So instead of starting at their 5, the Texans started at their 39. "That's as bad as a turnover," Linehan said.

Pace, Little sit

Offensive tackle Orlando Pace and defensive end Leonard Little probably would have played if Saturday had been a regular-season game. But both Pro Bowl players were held out for precautionary reasons.

Pace suffered a sore ankle, knee, and hip when Hargrove fell on his side in a practice. Little has been nursing a sore thigh muscle. Veteran Todd Steussie started in place of Pace at left tackle; rookie Victor Adeyanju started for Little at left defensive end.

No fullbacks

Also sitting Saturday night were fullbacks Madison Hedgecock (ankle) and Paul Smith (calf). That left the Rams with no healthy fullbacks, so the Rams got by against the Texans with more three-receiver formations. On plays requiring a blocker in the backfield, the Rams used extra tight ends there.


St. Louisan Richard Hantak, a former NFL referee who worked two Super Bowls, is working Rams home games this season as an NFL observer. ... The Houston roster features former Rams starters Dexter McLeon (cornerback) and Zach Weigert (offensive lineman). ... Coin-toss captains for the Rams were Marc Bulger, Corey Chavous, and Dexter Coakley.