Friday, November 18, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Blaine Saipaia is used to lining up on the right side of the offensive line...and the left side and in the middle and even further out at tight end.

The Rams’ utility man has earned his reputation as the ultimate team player because of his willingness to bounce from position to position with nary a word or hint of dissension.

That patience looks like it will be rewarded with a start in place of Adam Timmerman at right guard against the Cardinals on Sunday.

“Anytime you get in the game and get a chance play, it’s a chance to really prove yourself worthy of being here at this level and here on this team,” Saipaia said. “The level of expectation has been set by the guys here before me. There is a level of intensity you have to bring because they have set the bar so high. You have to be ready to keep it up, match it or improve on it.”

Most of Saipaia’s work in games has come at right tackle, but this season more than ever he has been all over the place. He played special teams and left guard in the opener in San Francisco and started at right tackle the following week against Arizona and Tennessee. In the first meeting with Seattle, Saipaia started at tight end.

But during practice all year, Saipaia has played every position on the offensive line, even finding some time to work in on the defensive line in goal line situations. Against Indianapolis, he played defensive line in those packages also.

“One week I’ll be at tight end, the next week I’ll be at guard, back to tackle, now at guard,” Saipaia said. “I worked in a few D tackle plays on the goal line there. Don’t be surprised if one day I’m split out wide next to Torry (Holt) and running some streaks.”

At 6’3, 310 pounds, Saipaia probably isn’t as suited to any position more than guard. He simply hasn’t been given the opportunity to settle in there until this week, well for the most part.

Saipaia is an emergency center and took some snaps there this week, but coach Joe Vitt said guard is really where Saipaia belongs.

“He’s playing guard right now and he should feel comfortable in there,” Vitt said. “I think that’s really what he is. He’s a bigger body guy with a good short area punch and doesn’t have to move as much in space, moving tackles off the line of scrimmage.”

With the news that Saipaia will probably start, Timmerman’s streak of 184 consecutive games and 89 straight starts would come to an end. Timmerman watched Friday’s practice just as he did on Wednesday and Thursday and probably won’t be able to go unless his back heals overnight.

Still, that doesn’t mean Timmerman can’t have an impact on Sunday’s game. Saipaia said he wouldn’t hesitate to take some advice from Timmerman or Tom Nütten, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.

“When you battle as long as they have there is bound to be some speed bumps along the way,” Saipaia said. “They are still warriors no matter what happens. Adam is still a valuable part of this team. Even when he’s not on the field, he’s off the field helping the younger guys.”

SPECIAL GUEST: On Monday, coach Mike Martz showed up at Rams Park and gave a speech to the players about how much is still out there for them to accomplish this season.

He made his second appearance at Rams Park this week on Friday, showing up at his first practice since announcing he would be leaving the team for the rest of the season.

“I’m sure he was happy to be back here,” center Larry Turner said. “I’m sure he misses it. I know if I was the head coach, I would miss it too. I just hope he can get healthy and get back to doing what he loves to do.”

Martz came to Rams Park on Monday and addressed the team with some words of encouragement for the rest of the season.

“It was good to see him up and walking around,” Saipaia said. “He’s looking a lot better. I’m glad to see him up and with a lot more life.

“Football is in his blood, he’s not going to be able to stay away from it too long. This is his home so this is where he belongs.”

Although it might seem strange for the coach who vowed to stay away to show up at practice, quarterback Marc Bulger said nothing shocks him much these days.

“You don’t really get surprised around here too much anymore,” Bulger said. “It was good to see him.

“He just pretty much [came] just to say hi to everyone. He can look at the play and know what the call is in his head, so he didn’t even need to ask.”

RACKING ‘EM UP: For all of the ability possessed by receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and quarterback Kurt Warner, the Cardinals’ No. 1 scoring option this season is their kicker, Neil Rackers.

Rackers has been an amazing weapon for Arizona, connecting on all of his 28 field goal attempts and nine extra points.

“Well, Neil has been phenomenal, first off,” Arizona coach Dennis Green said. “He really has the respect of all the players because he works extremely hard and he’s really worked at creating one of the best at what he does. As a kicker, being able to go down and make field goals, and then go down and have touchbacks, gives the defense an advantage. The defense goes on the field and a team has to go 80 yards for a touchdown. Of course he leads the National Football League in touchbacks. He leads the National Football League in field goal accuracy. So he’s obviously having a phenomenal year, and right now he’s playing like the best kicker in the game.”

INJURY REPORT: Friday’s injury report remained the same. Cornerback Travis Fisher missed the workout and still appears to be out for Sunday.

The starter in his spot has yet to be named, but it seems that rookie Ronald Bartell has the inside track on the job.

“With Ron Bartell he is playing against bigger wide receivers this week and he does a good job locating the ball in the air,” Vitt said. “So he will be a prime candidate to get a lot of playing time this week.”

Defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson and Timmerman join Fisher as questionable. Jackson (back) is expected to be ready to go while Fisher and Timmerman likely won’t.

Running back Marshall Faulk, who missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practice returned for limited action Friday and Vitt said Faulk will be ready to play Sunday.

“He’ll be fine,” Vitt said. “In fact, he took some reps today and got some work today. He feels good.”