Wednesday, August 16, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

There was a noticeable excitement among the Rams on Wednesday. No, they weren’t overly thrilled to be going through the motions of two a days once again.

But Wednesday’s two practices were the first light revealed at the end of the tunnel. Since reporting day on July 26, the team has had seven two-practice days.

Wednesday was No. 8 and it was significant for a team that has been at the grind for almost a month. It was the final two-practice day and it means training camp is near a conclusion.

“There weren’t too many tears shed,” coach Scott Linehan said. “We have one (practice) tonight. It will be modified somewhat. We’ll be working a lot more kicking than a normal night practice tonight. We tried to get a little extra conditioning this morning, during the heat, to make sure we’re in good shape for the game. But they’ve been running plenty. Aches and pains are starting to set in and we’re fighting through them good, though.”

The morning practice Wednesday also served as the final open practice of training camp. The team announced Wednesday morning that Thursday’s afternoon practice, originally scheduled to be open, will in fact be closed to the public.

Officially, camp breaks on Sunday, the day after the Rams play the Texans. With that benchmark in sight, there is plenty of excitement around the team.

“I’m sure they’re very happy,” Linehan said. “We’ve done a lot of conditioning. We’ve conditioned the body, not just in the physical side, but in the mental side. We had a lot of meetings as well. We’ll continue to have a strict meeting schedule and get a lot more of the mental things in.”

The schedule for the rest of the week includes an afternoon practice Thursday and Friday, both of which are closed to the public, the game Saturday and breaking of camp on Sunday.

The players get Sunday off and the team will then go into a one-practice-a-day routine starting Monday.

This year’s camp has had a decidedly different feel to it than past camps. For one, Linehan has gone to a two-practice, one-practice, two-practice alternating format that has allowed for more recovery time between practices.

Also, it seems the Rams have been in full pads more often, opening things for more physical workouts on a consistent basis.

“Our primary goal was that we were going to come into camp in great shape,” Linehan said. “I told them that if they got in shape and did their job, we weren’t going to come in and do a conditioning test. We were going to come in and be in shape and we were. Just by our training room reports and where we’ve been so far, I think it’s a great testament to how they’ve worked and how we’ve asked them to work. We’ve continued to push them through it and condition them all the way through camp. I’ve been in camps before where you never condition the players. We’ve conditioned our guys so we stay in shape and don’t lose the shape we were in and I’ve been very excited about that.”

FULLBACK FALLBACKS: With fullbacks Madison Hedgecock (ankle) and Paul Smith (calf) on the sidelines with injuries, Linehan has had to be creative in how he uses his players in practice.

Although nobody is happy to see Hedgecock and Smith on the sidelines, it has given some young tight ends an opportunity to work as an “H” back. The H back is asked to move around and work in the back field at times, anyway, so while Hedgecock and Smith are out, someone such as Dominique Byrd is getting an opportunity to get important repetitions.

“We’ve been working our tight ends primarily in that spot,” Linehan said. “If we got in a game, we would do something maybe with one of the other tailbacks or one of the tight ends certainly. Lucky for us, right now we don’t have that dilemma, but that’s what we would do and that’s what we’re doing in practice.”

Byrd has looked better in recent days after Linehan said it would be a tight competition for a potential third tight end spot. This week has proved to be a prime opportunity for someone like Byrd to prove his versatility.

“It’s basically an H-back spot,” Linehan said. “You go from being a tight end or a second tight end basically to an H-back, which is kind of a universal position. You can be a fullback one play or a receiver or a slot or a wing or whatever. I think those things certainly enhance their ability to be evaluated right now.”

TURK TAKES LEAD: The competition between Andy Groom and Matt Turk has been brewing all through camp, but it appeared Turk took the lead with his performance against the Colts last week.

Linehan originally hesitated to admit that Turk had emerged as the leader, but he changed course when asked Tuesday. He named Turk the leader, but left the door open for Groom to make a move.

“It’s still early, but he’s certainly the front runner,” Linehan said. “That’s a no-brainer, we brought him in for that spot, but Andy’s done good. He had an excellent first week, two weeks of camp, and you can never relax in this business.”

SO LONG, SEAU!: Linehan only had the opportunity to work with linebacker Junior Seau for one year, last season, when the two were together in Miami.

Although Seau was at the end of the line, Linehan still got to see what it is that will make Seau a Hall of Famer someday.

“Junior’s most impressive trait was he brought an infectious leadership attitude to the field,” Linehan said. “You knew who the leader was as soon as you got out there. He still had some great ability, even in his last year of his career when we were there. (He) played the game like it was for real every time he stepped on the field. It was unbelievable. We’d be in no pads, and Junior would be tackling the running back or quarterback. He just didn’t know any other way how to play and that’s probably why he’s going to be a Hall of Famer sooner than later.”

Seau announced his retirement earlier this week.

RAM BITS: For those wanting their first glimpse of the Rams this season, Saturday night’s contest with Houston is set to be televised. The game officially became a sellout Wednesday morning when it was announced that Edward Jones, in cooperation with the Rams, bought up the remainder of the tickets and donated all 2,000 of them to AmerenUE employees who helped restore power to St. Louis last month…Left tackle Orlando Pace continued to sit out, but Linehan says it is precautionary and Pace could play at any