By Bill Coats

Whining is not an option for Fred Russell. Not after watching his mother, Twana Spencer, drag herself home at 2 a.m. night after night following 10-hour shifts on the assembly line at the General Motors plant near their home in Romulus, Mich.

So, you won't hear Russell complaining about the long odds he's facing in trying to nail down a spot on the Rams' roster. "It's a blessing just to be here, and I just take it for what it is," he said. "If it doesn't work out here, hopefully it'll work out somewhere else."

Russell is toiling behind Steven Jackson, Tony Fisher and Moe Williams at running back. Although the Rams probably won't keep more than three backs on their final roster, Russell has turned some heads.

After a strong showing earlier this year in NFL Europe, where his 522 yards topped the Cologne Centurions, Russell has been the Rams' leading rusher in both preseason games. He piled up 73 yards on seven carries, including a 54-yard burst, against Indianapolis, then tacked on 23 yards on six attempts vs. Houston. He's averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

That might not be enough, however. Two years ago, Russell was the No. 1 ground gainer for the Miami Dolphins in the preseason as an undrafted rookie out of Iowa. But he didn't make the team.

He realizes that history could repeat itself here. "You don't worry about all that, because it's not in your hands," he said. "It's in the hands of the people upstairs. You just do your best and see how the chips fall."

So far, though, the people upstairs have been impressed. "We like Fred," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "When he's had an opportunity in scrimmages or in a preseason game, he's made the most of it."

Russell not only inherited his 5-foot-2 mother's grit, but also her diminutive stature: He packs his 195 pounds on a 5-7 frame, but that isn't necessarily a negative.

"He gets behind the linemen, the (defensive) guys don't know where he is, and then he comes popping out of there," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "We didn't know much about him because he was in Europe during the offseason, but he's really had a nice camp ... a pleasant surprise."

Is there room on the roster for a fourth back, though? "We haven't determined that," Linehan said. "There's room for our 53 best players and ... I'm still not sure what 53 that's going to be."

Russell said, "You still have two more games to go. If I keep making plays, I think I've made a case for myself."

Holt still sore

Wide receiver Torry Holt, who suffered a bruised sternum Saturday night vs. the Texans, said he was "a little sore" Monday. "But I feel a lot better than I thought I would," he added.

Holt was hurt when he fell onto the point of the ball after a 15-yard reception late in the first quarter. He exercised in the pool at Rams Park the next morning to start working out the stiffness. He didn't practice Monday, instead sprinting up and down the berm at the south end of the practice fields to keep up his conditioning.

"I like the hills; that's my best form of workout," Holt said. "That's all I know, is work. That's why I'm not going to let this hold me back. I'm going to work and fight through it and get back ready to roll."


Jackson also sat out Monday. "I'm working on my tan," he quipped. Actually, he's been battling tendinitis in a heel. ... Tackle Orlando Pace (ankle, knee, hip) took part in non-contact drills. ... Defensive end Leonard Little (thigh) was limited to individual work. ... Linebacker Drew Wahlroos, out since breaking his right hand Aug. 3, returned to the field with a cast for protection.