By Jim Thomas

Left guard Mark Setterstrom started 50 games over four seasons at the University of Minnesota. He was an all-Big Ten Conference first-teamer as a junior and senior, earning his share of all-American mentions.

But on draft weekend, 241 players were selected ahead of him before the Rams called his name in the seventh round. When asked if that's a point of motivation, Setterstrom paused, and replied diplomatically: "To some degree. I felt like I had a good career at Minnesota. I had hoped to go maybe a little higher in the draft."

So what happened?

There was some concern from pro scouts about a past knee injury -- Setterstrom had cartilage work done in high school at Northfield (Minn.) High.
"It was a minor issue in high school that happened," Setterstrom said. "I went to the (NFL scouting) combine, and apparently some things didn't look good. That was kind of frustrating ... to hear people say that."

Maybe the fact that the Golden Gophers were a run-oriented team and the NFL is a passing league worked against him on draft day as well.

"On average, we probably passed 10 to 12 times a game," Setterstrom said. "We just ran the ball. I have a ways to go on my (pass-blocking) technique."

But Rams doctors weren't as concerned about medical problems as some other teams were. And Rams coaches got rave reviews on Setterstrom from the Gophers' staff in the pre-draft evaluation process.

"They felt consistently over the last three years that this kid was one of their best players," Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said. "So we just kept turning the film on. And I kept on looking at him, and I'd see something I'd really like. So when he's sitting there in the seventh round, you say, 'why not?'"

So far, Setterstrom is making that seventh-round expenditure look like a wise investment. It looks like Setterstrom will make the roster as a backup guard. Over the course of training camp he even got some practice repetitions with the first unit.

"He's mature beyond his years," coach Scott Linehan said earlier in camp. "A guy that starts four years in the Big 10, plays at a high level in a system that, you know, they do a lot of things we do at Minnesota. That makes you excited about him.

"He plays with great leverage. He's smart. He plays with a great base. You don't see him lunging, and getting over-extended. He knows what he does well, and he doesn't 'maximize' his limitations, so to speak. And that's very rare in a rookie."

Linehan said he spent a day with Golden Gophers coach Glen Mason over the summer in Minnesota.

"Glen said he's the best lineman he's had since he's been there," Linehan said. "Never missed a game. Never missed practice. That's what you're looking for in an offensive lineman."

OK, the part of never missing a practice might be a slight stretch, Setterstrom says. He may have missed a practice or two because he was nicked up. But that's all.

"I started 50 games without missing a game up there," Setterstrom said. "It's something I take pride in, playing through pain and just trying to make my team better every day."

With the Rams, Setterstrom admits to being a little star struck the first few times he lined up with the starting offensive line in practice.

"I even told those guys, 'It's an honor to even be in the huddle with you guys. I grew up watching you guys,'" Setterstrom said. "I'm still trying to prove out there that I deserve to be there. I can't be in awe too much, or else I won't be around for too long."

In exhibition play, Setterstrom has been working strictly with the second unit. Richie Incognito is the starting left guard; with veteran Adam Timmerman at right guard. If nothing else, Setterstrom has at least shown he belongs.

"Where he's lacking right now is a little bit of upper body strength," Boudreau said. "In pass protection, that kind of takes its toll if you're really not upper-body strong.

"But he's very smart. ... He's got great lower-body flexibility. In the running game, most of your strength comes in your lower body, so he's ahead of the game in the running game. I think he has a chance to be a real good football player if he continues on and grows into it."

Seventh-rounder or not.

"The draft is just a starting point," Setterstrom said. "It's more about where you finish up in your career, and what you make of it. So here we go."