By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
10/06/2005



Not exactly business as usual, but pretty close to it. That's the state of affairs at Rams Park the past two days without coach Mike Martz on the practice field.

"Mike came in this morning like he did (Wednesday)," assistant head coach-linebackers coach Joe Vitt said following Thursday's practice. "He scripted the practice, he set the format for practice, the schedule times. He reviewed Wednesday's (practice) film, met with the offense, and went over the corrections of Wednesday's film."

After which Martz left Rams Park for further medical tests, and some rest.

For the second day in a row, Vitt ran practice and met with the media afterward. Team medical officials believe Martz has a bacterial infection of a heart valve - a condition known as endocarditis. A final diagnosis has yet to made, although it could come as early as today.

In the meantime, the show must go on.

"We're just continuing to try to prepare as best as we can," linebacker Trev Faulk said. "Seattle or the NFL won't push back the game because our head coach is having some health issues. We still have to get ready to go and play."

The Rams play host to Seattle on Sunday in a key NFC West contest. Players and coaches alike expect Martz to be on the sidelines Sunday, but there is no official word on that as of yet.

"He's our leader, and we hope he has a speedy recovery," offensive tackle Orlando Pace said. "We expect him to be out there (Sunday). And if he isn't, we're going to be professional and go out and play and try to get a win."

Martz apparently didn't tell the team Wednesday that he would not be at practice that day.

"I was totally shocked when I didn't see him out there," defensive end Anthony Hargrove said. "I really didn't realize it till we started doing 'team' period. But it still doesn't disturb us from anything. We've still got to come out here and work."

As Vitt put it: "We've got to take care of business. At the end of the day, nobody is going to want to hear our sad story. At the end of the day, we've got to win. We're in a result-oriented business, so it moves on."

During practice, defensive coordinator Larry Marmie has supervised work on that side of the ball, as he always does. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild has taken over supervision of the offense in Martz's absence.

"The position coaches and Coach Fairchild, they've done a great job of stepping in and taking hold of what needs to be done on our side of the ball," running back Steven Jackson said.

Several offensive players say there has been nothing different about the game plan this week, even with Martz's trimmed back schedule.

"Coach Martz is still game-planning," wide receiver Dane Looker said. "He comes in and installs our offense in the morning. So he's just as involved this week as he's ever been. He just hasn't been on the field."

In his comments to the team Thursday, Martz discussed his medical situation, but apparently provided few details.

"He's been real, real, real vague," Trev Faulk said. "A lot of new developments that we've been learning about have been from you guys (reporters). He's really been trying to keep it away from us, because he wants us focused on football, and not have us concerned about his health."

But concerned they are.

"We've been kind of down around here ... because you know your head guy is a little sick," Steven Jackson said. "And everyone cares about him. We want to make sure that he gets right. As long as he's doing that, we're going to take care of business on the field."

Looker added: "He's part of this family. You know it's more serious than we'd like it to be when he has to miss practice because he's tired. He loves the game so much. He loves the team so much. And he's such a competitor that he doesn't want to miss anything."

But just seeing Martz and speaking with him Thursday morning was reassuring for some players.

"He said he was feeling better," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "He has a pretty good spirit about things, and that's the most important thing. That helps us. If he's high-spirited, then we can go out and be high-spirited."

Vitt said he wasn't sure if Martz would be at practice today.

"We're going day-by-day," Vitt said. "Mike wants to be with the team. This is where Mike belongs. It's killing him, and when our players saw his face this morning, our players were elated to see him. There was a sense of calm when they saw his face, so we're working through this thing right now."