By Jeff Gordon
ONLINE SPORTS COLUMNIST
11/30/2005
Jeff Gordon
Online Sports Columnist Jeff Gordon

Right tackle Alex Barron is headed off for hand surgery. He will miss Sunday’s game with the Redskins, then attempt to come back and play with a cast.

Left tackle Orlando Pace watched Wednesday’s practice in sweats. He has nagging hip and hamstring injuries, making him a bit iffy for this game. Pace will try to practice later this week and play Sunday, but he left the previous game before halftime and complained that he could barely move.

So, interim Joe Vitt, could you ever imagine playing a game without both those bookends on the offensive line?

“We’re pretty weatherbeaten right now,” Vitt said. “Nothing surprises you.”

Once again, the Rams will try to make do. Rex Tucker, who filled in last Sunday, figures to replace Barron.

He’s no Ryan Tucker on the outside; Grant Williams might be a better comparison. Tucker is much more comfortable at guard or even center.

“This was tough for him there,” Vitt admitted Monday. “We threw him out at right tackle and has limited snaps out there. He competed. He struggled at times. He is a tough guy that is accountable. What he lacks sometimes in athleticism and knowledge he makes up for with toughness.”

There’s utility lineman Blaine Saipaia, maybe. He could be a competent fill-in.

But the big fella said he is still woozy from his concussion, which is one why Larry Turner had to leave his substitute teaching gig at his old high school and make his Rams comeback. He was out there Sunday in Houston, battling as best you can.

“You never know when your number will get called,” Vitt said.

After Saipaia, there’s Matt Morgan. You will almost certainly recall he was released on Aug. 30 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 4. On Nov. 25, he was signed off the practice squad to provide some protection against all the injuries.

What else do we know about him? Well, he played his college ball at Pittsburgh. He was a fixture at right tackle. He played 50 games and started 41. Other than that . . .

“I think he’s gotten better,” Vitt said Wednesday. “I think he’s taken his game a lot more seriously. He’s got good balance, he’s got a nice anchor to him. He’s got pretty good hand placement. He studies hard. He takes his business seriously. I think that he has a chance to have a good future in the National Football League.

“In the immediate future, if he needs to go in there, he’ll be prepared.”

Well, he better. If Pace has to bow out, Morgan is next in line.

Given the shape of the interior offensive line – veteran guard Tom Nutten is on injured reserve, rookie guard Claude Terrell is banged up and veteran guard Adam Timmerman has played hurt all season – the simultaneous loss of these two enormous tackles could devastate the Rams.

(The only good news on the line is Andy McCollum, who continues to excel at a machine-like clip. “The center of your football team is the heart and soul of your football team,” Vitt said Monday. “He’s going to handle the ball every time, just like the quarterback. He’s going to set all the protections. He’s going to set the line slants. He is going to make sure you have the right combination blocks. Andy just doesn’t miss any games, very rarely misses a mental assignment.”)

Knowing all this, the already aggressive Redskins defense will attack the Rams from every angle. If the Rams cannot sustain their ground game with powerful run blocking, rookie Rams quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick may have to run for his life.

Tucker . . . Saipaia . . . Morgan . . . these guys could all end up on the spot.

“This team responds to adversity,” Vitt said Wednesday. “They take things every seriously. We’re going to play the hand we’re dealt. That’s all we can do.”