Saipaia will have his hands full at tackle
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch

Forget about "Ocean's Twelve" and "Bridget Jones." The only film Rams tackle Blaine Saipaia watched this past week starred Carolina's Julius Peppers. The proper rating would be PG: plenty good.

"He does a lot of things well," Saipaia said. "He can chase the ball down, he's got great speed, he's got good power. He's just an all-around good player."

Although Peppers, who played basketball as well as football at the University of North Carolina, is in just his third NFL season, he already is regarded as one of the league's premier defensive ends. Job one for Saipaia on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte will be keeping the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Peppers away from quarterback Chris Chandler.

That's a daunting task for any right tackle: Peppers, the 2002 NFL defensive rookie of the year, has 28 career sacks. With nine this season, he ranks eighth in the league.

Compounding Saipaia's challenge is the fact that he's played in exactly five NFL games, with one previous start. That was three weeks in Buffalo, when he stepped in for the injured Grant Williams and received generally favorable reviews afterward.

Williams is out again with a shoulder problem, and coach Mike Martz seems committed to Saipaia for now - and perhaps for the long haul.

"I have great confidence in him," Martz said. "He's a guy that I looked at all year, throughout the season, and felt like he was going to be one of our feature starters here eventually. When it was going to happen, I didn't know. But he has the athleticism to line up on the edge and block a guy like Peppers, with his feet and his strength and all of those things."

Saipaia, a 6-3, 315-pound Colorado State product, said: "Obviously he's a good defensive end and I've got to really be on top of my game. But ... I just try not to put too much pressure on myself. If I can stay consistent and just use the proper techniques that the coaches have been drilling in our heads, it should work out."

Holt needs tickets

Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, a Greensboro, N.C., native who played at North Carolina State, had to round up extra tickets for Sunday's game. "Probably 20 to 25," he said. "It's always exciting going back home and playing in front of friends and family. I'm thankful for the opportunity."

Turley is a mystery

Saipaia, who signed Sept. 8 as a free agent, probably wouldn't be in the Rams' mix if not for the back injury that ended Kyle Turley's season before it began.

Turley, the Rams' starting right tackle last year after he was acquired in March 2003 from New Orleans, underwent back surgery in the offseason. He reaggravated the injury at training camp and was placed on injured reserve Aug. 28. Martz said this week that he hadn't heard from Turley in months.

"I have no idea where he is or whether he wants to play or can play," said Martz, who added that after Turley left Macomb, Ill., for further evaulation of his back, "He wouldn't answer any of my calls. I called him probably 20 times, and he never answered a call. When I finally did talk to him, he was very short, very abrupt. He didn't want to talk, and that was it."

Martz, Fox go back

Martz and Panthers coach John Fox shared an office at Rams Park in 1996, when Martz was the team's wide receivers coach and Fox was working as a consultant for Steve Ortmayer, then the general manager.

"He didn't have a place to sit; they had him at a table in some meeting room or something like that," Martz recalled. "I said, 'You're going to have to use a phone. If you want to talk to your family or you want do to this and that, when I'm in meetings or on the field, just use my office.' So he did."

Fox is in his third season with the Panthers, the defending NFC champions. "I always felt like he'd be a head coach - and a terrific head coach," Martz said. "He's very, very intelligent."