By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/07/2006

It was hard to tell what was rising faster last week at Rams Park, the temperature or offensive lineman Blaine Saipaia's frustration. Unable to participate in training camp practices because of a pulled muscle in his right calf, Saipaia chafed at his inactivity.

"It's killing me to sit and watch these guys," he said. "You can't make the team in the training room."

An influx of promising youngsters is pushing some of the veteran linemen for jobs, and Saipaia feared that he'd "get lost in the mix. It's real easy for the coaches to be so busy trying to evaluate the talent that they have in front of them and not worry about the guys that are hurt," he explained.

Finally, after missing eight days and 12 practices, Saipaia returned to the field Friday. The next day, he was busy during the first camp scrimmage, mostly at right tackle with the second offensive unit. That group was impressive, producing four touchdowns in five possessions.
Huffing and puffing afterward, Saipaia said, "We showed that we could actually play and that we're competent enough to be in a game situation."

Actually, Saipaia, 27, proved that over the past two seasons, when he played in 17 games, with eight starts, for the Rams. Previously, he'd spent four years trying to catch on in the NFL, auditioning unsuccessfully with five teams.

The 6-foot-3, 325-pound former Colorado State standout endeared himself to the Rams with his versatility "" he can play all five positions on the line. Saipaia appears to have a shot at settling in as the fourth tackle, behind Orlando Pace, Alex Barron and veteran Todd Steussie. He's comfortable at guard, too, and also has worked at center.

"The more you can do, especially when you're in a backup spot and you're trying to find your role, the better," coach Scott Linehan said. "That's job security."

As Saipaia said, "I'm still the utility guy until they tell me otherwise."

Hedgecock takes a double hit

Fullback Madison Hedgecock had a tough couple of days. First, he learned Friday that Paul Smith had moved ahead of him to the top of the depth chart. Then on Saturday, Hedgecock sprained his left ankle in the team's scrimmage.

Though he sat out Monday's practices, Hedgecock said the ankle was "just a little sore." The demotion to the second team might be more painful.

"There's always somebody that's coming in battling for positions," said Hedgecock, the only Rams rookie who started all last season. "All you have to do now is just keep competing and working as hard as you can, and whatever happens as a result of that . . . that's what happens."

Hedgecock, a 6-3, 266-pound seventh-round selection out of North Carolina, specializes as a lead blocker. He was stopped for no gain on his lone carry last year; he caught nine passes for 69 yards.

He also was a heavy special-teams contributor, leading the team with 19 tackles. And that's where Hedgecock's main value might lie this season. .

Patching it up

Cornerback Tye Hill and safety Dwaine Carpenter apparently rub each other the wrong way. Playing in the same secondary, the two got into a shouting match during Saturday's scrimmage.

On Monday, they came to blows, scuffling on the sideline in the team period. It took several teammates to pull them apart. Later, Hill played down the episode. "We're cool," he said.

Linehan said: "Tye was frustrated and Carp was frustrated. This time of year, you're not getting a lot of sleep and you're sore, you get a little edgy. . . . They kissed and made up."