Thursday, November 30, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As a civil engineering major at the University of Minnesota, Mark Setterstrom learned all about what it takes to make the grade.

So, it comes as no surprise now that Setterstrom has taken over as the Rams’ starting left guard that he is once again moving to the head of the class.

“He graded out the highest of all of the offensive lineman in his first start, which is pretty impressive,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He was a big factor in our ability to run the football. That’s the reason we drafted him, that’s the reason why he’s here, and he’s really worked hard to get himself ready to play. He’s gotten a lot stronger, worked on scout team, and worked a lot on his upper-body strength, and he was able to really hold up and play well. He played as well as any rookie I’ve been around on his first start, that’s for sure.”

That’s high praise for any player, but considering Setterstrom’s status as a seventh-round draft choice, it’s particularly impressive. In Sunday’s 20-17 win against San Francisco, Setterstrom made his NFL regular-season debut. With Orlando Pace out for the season, the Rams moved Todd Steussie from the guard spot outside to left tackle. That left a vacancy for Setterstrom to make his move.

After an impressive preseason in which Setterstrom earned a roster spot with his consistency and strong run blocking attributes and even took repetitions with the starters, Setterstrom was brought back a little at the outset of the season. He was a gameday inactive for the first 9 games of the season.

Finally, in week 10, with Pace out for the year and right guard Adam Timmerman banged up, Setterstrom was active and got his first NFL action. He was in at right guard for a handful of plays in his first chance to dip his feet into the NFL pool.

While Setterstrom was getting accustomed to the game, quarterback Marc Bulger was in the process of being sacked seven times. The need for a change was apparent and Setterstrom was a piece of the puzzle.

With an upbeat attitude and a chance to learn from the sidelines, Setterstrom never let sitting out bother him.

“I am just trying to soak up all I can with the leadership we have around us,” Setterstrom said. “Obviously, I wanted to get out there but it wasn’t frustrating.”

Instead of moping, Setterstrom set out to improve himself. While Setterstrom possesses a strong anchor, he was a bit lacking in upper body strength. He hit the weight room with strength coaches Dana LeDuc and Brad Roll in an effort to make him more physical.

Setterstrom worked in practice to learn from the likes of Steussie and Timmerman on the intricacies of the position and the many techniques involved in playing offensive line in the NFL.

“Just watch the other guys on the team and their technique and learn about staying balanced in everything you do and not getting overextended,” Setterstrom said. “It’s still a work in progress but obviously I feel better than I did at the start of the year.”

Another area that Setterstrom had to solidify was his pass blocking. At Minnesota, Setterstrom was a key cog to one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the nation. The Golden Gophers threw the ball on occasion, but took pride in running over opponents.

Not that Setterstrom was a blank slate when it came to pass blocking, but he certainly was a much more refined run blocker.

“Everyone has to pass block no matter what level you are at,” Setterstrom said. “It’s more of the techniques you used because you are going against the best pass rushers that there is.”

For now, Setterstrom appears set in his role at left guard and will likely handle the starting role for the rest of the season. Earning the highest marks among offensive linemen was an important boost in confidence for the young guard, but it was clear in the victory that the team had plenty of faith in him.

On running back Steven Jackson’s 36-yard touchdown run, Setterstrom cleared a key block and when the Rams needed a yard on a critical fourth down on the final drive, Setterstrom got to the second level and hammered a San Francisco linebacker.

It’s plays like that that have Setterstrom headed toward graduating from his NFL rookie season with honors.

PACE SURGERY: Pace is difficult for most defensive linemen to move on a football field. Imagine how the doctors felt when they attempted to perform surgery on his torn triceps last week when Pace was knocked out and they needed to get him to roll over.

“I guess they had to twist me and all that while I was asleep,” Pace said. “I think that was the hardest part of the surgery.”

Pace was fitted for a brace Monday in an effort to help him begin the long road back from his season-ending injury. Pace, who is expected to miss six months, said once he gets the brace he will be able to start doing some rehabilitation work, but because of the importance of the arm, it will be hard for him to do a whole lot for some time.

“They said the rehab is probably the hardest part of it, just trying to get that muscle back,” Pace said. “Especially doing the job that I do, with the pushing and all that, I'm sure it's going to take awhile.”

INCOGNITO OK: Center Richie Incognito suffered an injured foot on two occasions in Sunday’s win and was forced to miss the majority of the second half after having his ankle rolled on in a pile.

With an already banged up offensive line, the Rams could ill afford to lose Incognito, especially considering how well he has performed in the middle this season.

But Incognito iced and rested the foot Monday and Tuesday and returned to the practice field Wednesday afternoon.

“Everything felt great, I moved around real well, pass blocking, run blocking, everything went real well today so it feels good,” Incognito said.

Incognito is listed as probable on the team’s injury report.

INJURY REPORT: Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams made it official that defensive end Victor Adeyanju (broken arm) and linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski (concussion) will indeed be out this week.

Linehan said Adeyanju’s best hope for a return is the second to last game of the season against Washington on Dec. 24. Kacyvenski’s second concussion of the season could also keep him out longer than this week.

Fullback Paul Smith (hamstring) and Timmerman (ribs) are questionable and quarterback Marc Bulger (ribs), cornerback Tye Hill (thigh) and defensive tackle Claude Wroten (hamstring) join Incognito as probable. Bulger, Hill and Wroten are fine and expected to play this weekend against Arizona barring any setbacks.

The only injury on the Arizona list is defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy who is doubtful with an ankle injury.