Tuesday, August 8, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

The first time Mark Setterstrom was instructed to step into the huddle with the Rams’ first-team offense; he couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed.

Jumping in with the likes of Orlando Pace, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce would be enough to make any rookie a bit nervous. But Setterstrom wasn’t completely blown away to the point that he couldn’t speak.

“I was thinking to myself and I even told those guys it’s an honor to even be in the huddle with you guys,” Setterstrom said. “I grew up watching those guys. It’s an honor and I am still trying to prove that I even deserve to be there. I can’t be in awe too much or else I won’t be around too long.”

From the way things have gone since Setterstrom’s first opportunity to run with the first-team, he doesn’t appear to be too mesmerized by his talented teammates. In fact, his teammates and coaches have been impressed by the poise of the seventh-round selection from Minnesota.

“He’s been a very pleasant surprise,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He plays with the speed of a veteran. It’s not foreign ground for him to be out there. You throw him in with the ones he’s going to play just like he would if he was with the third team. That’s a special trait for a young guy to be able to do that. He is a very level headed guy who knows how to play the game. He’s one of those throwback type of linemen and he certainly has a great chance as well.”

Most players drafted in the final round of the NFL Draft face long odds to make the final 53 for any team. But Setterstrom, who is listed at 6-4, 314 pounds, has certainly set himself apart in the early parts of training camp with his professional approach and work ethic.

It’s no surprise, though, that Setterstrom has handled everything like a pro since his arrival in St. Louis. A four-year starter at Minnesota, Setterstrom reported for duty for every game of his college career.

Despite some injury problems along the way, he never missed a game or practice and was a first-team All American as a junior and made the second team as a senior.

So, some might ask, how could a four-year starter at a Big 10 Conference school with All American credentials, freefall into the seventh round?

“I hoped to go higher but that’s the way the cards fell,” Setterstrom said. “I think maybe some people wondered if I would be able to pick up the techniques of the NFL. I am a student of the game and technique is very important to me. The more I am coached on something; I think I’ll be able to pick it up. It’s going to take some time, but I think I have already been able to pick up on some of the things they are trying to teach.”

Aside from a few injury issues, perhaps the biggest reason for Setterstrom’s freefall was the system he played in at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers and coach Glen Mason run a zone-blocking, run-oriented system that has produced prolific rushing statistics in Mason’s tenure.

Along with that comes the stigma that the offensive linemen, while talented run blockers, don’t have what it takes to become good pass blockers at the NFL level. Setterstrom estimates that Minnesota threw the ball only 10 to 12 times a game on average in his time there.

Although the fact that Minnesota was essentially a run first, run second team might have hurt Setterstrom’s draft position; he takes pride in being able to pound the ball on the ground.

“It’s something about football if you are running the ball on a team, it kind of takes the wind out of their sails,” Setterstrom said.

As the draft approached, many figured Setterstrom was best suited to go to Denver or Atlanta, where zone blocking schemes are a staple of the offense. But as Setterstrom continued to fall, Linehan grew more excited about the possibilities.

When Linehan was with the Vikings as offensive coordinator, he developed a relationship with Mason so when the time came to make a decision on Setterstrom, he turned to the Golden Gophers’ head coach for advice. Mason made a good case for Setterstrom and the Rams called his name.

“He's one of those guys I love because he doesn't talk tough,” Mason said while Setterstrom was at Minnesota. “He doesn't act tough. I'm just telling you he is one tough sucker. I was telling (co-offensive coordinator) Mitch Browning, there is one guy I wouldn't want to fight on our football team, and it's Mark Setterstrom.”

That toughness has won over many of the onlookers at training camp, thus far. It has earned Setterstrom a solid spot on the second offensive unit at left guard and his fair share of repetitions with the first team at the same position.

“The kid from Minnesota is a rookie, but he’s playing well,” Pace said. “Obviously, he’s been coached well in college and he’s stepping in and I’m really shocked and surprised by the effort he’s given out.”

So far, Setterstrom isn’t letting his early success go to his head. He downplays the chance to work with the first team and says he approaches every day as though his only goal is to make the team, not start.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t aware that there have been plenty of long shots in league history to make the team and go on to become starters. In fact, all he has to do is look around the huddle the next time he lines up with the first team to see that. For every first-round pick such as Pace and Barron, there is an end of the draft or undrafted free agent such as Andy McCollum (undrafted) and Adam Timmerman (seventh round).

“I’m just here to help the team and really just to make the team,” Setterstrom said. “I came in and I’m a seventh round pick. It really doesn’t matter if you are drafted or undrafted; you still have to make the team. We still have a ways to go and we still have a lot of preseason games. I’m excited about the opportunity I have been given, but at the same time I still have a lot of work to do.”