Rams reserves look sharp in scrimmage
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

MACOMB, Ill. - The Rams have done this scrimmage thing six times now in their 10 preseasons in St. Louis.

They scrimmaged against Chicago in 1996, Indianapolis in '97, '98, and '99 and Tennessee in 2000. But they've probably never had a crisper, more efficient scrimmage on either side of the ball than Saturday's work against the Bears at Western Illinois University.

"We had a chance to look at a lot of guys on the roster and answer some questions about these guys," coach Mike Martz said. "Overall, I'm pleased with the effort and the execution in many areas of this football team."

On offense, the Rams moved 70 yards for touchdowns on their first and third series. Arlen Harris scored on a 1-yard run on the first series, with Chris Chandler at quarterback. On the third series, wide receiver Kevin Curtis scored on a 35-yard pass from rookie Jeff Smoker.

With Smoker at quarterback, the Rams moved 46 yards on their second series for what would have been a 41-yard field goal attempt.

Each team had a separate session for kicking field goals, but at predetermined spots on the field, and not based on what was happening from scrimmage.

On defense, the Rams posted three-and-outs on three of the Bears' five series, with linebacker Tommy Polley all over the field in the early going. Chicago scored its only TD of the day on its fourth series, with the Rams using primarily third- and fourth-stringers by then. It was the only time the Bears were even in field goal range all day.

"I liked what I saw," new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie said. "We would've felt better if they hadn't gotten the ball in the end zone. But it looked like there was some good hitting. It looked like our guys were in positions that they were supposed to be in for the most part. ... I'm not disappointed at all."

But don't start making those Super Bowl travel plans just yet. The Bears and Rams both rested many of their regulars. Only eight Rams players who figure to be starters on opening day started on Saturday, four on offense and four on defense.

Fifteen Rams were held out because of injuries, but many of those ailments were of the bump-and-bruise variety and wouldn't have kept players out of the lineup were it a regular-season game. Martz also decided to rest Marc Bulger, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt on offense, and Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams on defense. They were all healthy scratches.

So about all Saturday's get-together really showed is that the Rams' reserves were a little better and a little faster than Chicago's. But that didn't deter the overflow crowd of 14,000 at Hanson Field from adding a festive atmosphere to the scrimmage.

"It was exciting to have this many people here," Martz said. "It's a tremendous statement for this city. They've done such a great job of putting this on. As I was coming in, I was just kind of amazed at the tent set-ups, and all the tailgating going on out there. I kind of got caught up in it. I was about to stop and have some ribs myself."

Instead he watched Chandler, who was shaky at times in Friday's workouts against the Bears, complete six of six passes on the first series. Three completions were on third down. They were to Shaun McDonald, Dane Looker and Mike Furrey.

"Chris did a nice job," Martz said. "But you know, he's played so much and he's so smooth. And as you can see with the rhythm and the tempo, nothing fazes him."

The play of the day came on the Rams' third series. On third and 6 from the Chicago 35, Smoker hit Curtis in stride on a crossing pattern. It looked like Curtis would make it to about the 10, but McDonald hustled up field to throw a block that allowed Curtis to score.

"I didn't have to do much," Curtis said. "Smoker put it right on me. He got good time at the line. And Shaun kind of sprung me with that last block. I could've walked in."

But the biggest cheers Saturday came when former Western Illinois star Russ Michna trotted out on the field for the final seven plays of the scrimmage.

"That was nice to hear," said Michna, the Rams' No. 4 quarterback. "Right now, there's nowhere else I'd rather be than right here in Macomb. It's great to know that they still appreciate what you did for them."

Michna completed a 17-yard pass to Furrey on his first play, but things went downhill from them. Michna was sacked twice; recovered a botched snap from rookie center Larry Turner on another play; and had a slightly overthrown pass sail through the hands of Furrey incomplete.