Monday, August 18, 2008

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

It didn’t take long for the Rams offensive line to be hit by the injury bug. After watching player after player fall to various injuries in 2007, the Rams have already lost guard Mark Setterstrom and tackle Brandon Gorin to season-ending surgery.

Now, the question becomes who will step into those roles and are those players ready in case they have to become starters.

While Setterstrom wasn’t working with the top unit, he was widely considered the team’s best backup on the interior of the line. His absence creates an opportunity for a pair of rookies to make their mark.

Third round pick John Greco and fifth-round choice Roy Schuening are the immediate fill ins for Setterstrom, backing up starters Jacob Bell and Richie Incognito at the guard positions.

“There is a reason why they are here; we just are asking them a little sooner,” coach Scott Linehan said. “That was going to be a battle from the beginning, who the final whatever eight or nine, 10 guys are. It just gives them an opportunity now to get more snaps than what they would have gotten to this point. So in a lot of ways that is good for those two.”

For Greco, the move inside was expected though it wasn’t necessarily expected this fast after he spent most of his college career at Toledo playing tackle. Many Rams coaches believe Greco’s best spot is ultimately inside, anyway.

Greco worked at guard against the Chargers and, according to coach Scott Linehan, performed as well as any of the other young Rams. With that in mind, the Rams are ready to let the growth of Greco begin.

“You always have to be prepared no matter where you are on the depth chart because things do happen,” Greco said. “It’s an unfortunate incident but I have to be ready and guys around us have to be ready. That day, that play can happen any time, you just have to be prepared.”

The immediate replacement for Setterstrom after he suffered the fractured patella was Schuening.

Schuening came to the Rams with a reputation for toughness and his run blocking ability but dropped to the fifth round because of a perceived lack of athleticism.

This camp has been up and down for Schuening but now he’s getting a chance to prove his worth and land a roster spot.

“It presents a good opportunity for me,” Schuening said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation for Mark. He’s a great guy, a great player. With him going down, I have some big shoes to fill. This being my rookie year, there are no growing pains out there. I need to be ready to play. I prepare myself all the time for when my chance appears, and that’s the way I’m looking at it.”

BULGER THROWS: Quarterback Marc Bulger participated fully in the Rams practice Monday afternoon after suffering a shoulder injury against San Diego in Saturday’s preseason game. Bulger left the game as a precautionary measure and Linehan said the team wanted to wait and see how he felt Monday before having him throw. Bulger looked sharp in the practice, though, and finished the workout. “I don’t think that if we were in the regular season it would have been a big deal,” Bulger said. “Right before the half, we wanted to be extra careful. Everything’s fine.”

INJURY UPDATE: Most of the injuries that kept players out of Monday’s practice were to be expected.

Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring) did some running on the side and appears poised for a return.

Cornerback Fakhir Brown (shoulder) is also closer to a return and even participated in some individual drills.

“I think he’s close,” Linehan said. “I think the good news is that he’s progressing. I think the pain is starting to go away. He’s starting to do the walk-through things and as he feels better we’ll kind of push his progress and kind of wait and see again. He’s the only one that can tell anyone how he feels and I know he feels a lot better.”

Fullback Russ Weil (ankle), linebacker David Vobora (ankle) and running back Brian Leonard (shoulder) also did not participate. Tight end Anthony Becht returned to practice from a hamstring injury that kept him out of most of camp.

Left tackle Orlando Pace played the first half against the Chargers, more plays than he’s played since 2006 and held up OK. But the Rams took some precautions with him Monday, limiting his repetitions in team drills. “He was a little sore today but I think everybody is actually,” Linehan said. “I think the first units both played a lot. Like I said (he played) a very significant amount of plays and we planned on that. I think it was a good sore. He will be during the year as we go and we will just kind of monitor how he feels. He did not take every rep in team today because of how close it was to the game. But he came out real good.”