Shoving match 'hearsay?
Rams' soap opera turns pages of SI
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - Sometimes players from other NFL teams ask St. Louis Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce about the soap opera surrounding his team.
"Then right after that, I ask them same question," Bruce said. "Chaos has always been here. It has been around the league. You get into the integral part of any organization, you'll find something."
It seems like the Rams have had more than their fair share of turmoil this season from coach Mike Martz's health problems to a Rams executive leaving a "throat slasher" comment on a newspaper columnist's voice mail.
On Thursday, the scuttlebutt centered on a scuffle between Rams running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery and Rams offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.
Montgomery gave Fairchild something akin to shove after the two got into an argument during practice on Wednesday afternoon.
The skirmish was so quick that media members as well as some players watching practice didn't notice it.
Rams interim head coach Joe Vitt refused to acknowledge that any altercation occurred.
"Did anybody see that yesterday?" Vitt said. "You bring those people over here who saw it, just like those unnamed sources, and put a face to him, then they'll ask it, and I'll comment on it. No more hearsay from me now. You better come with somebody's name, and I'll respond to it."
Asked whether he saw anything, Vitt said: "I was looking at practice yesterday, and that's the gospel truth."
Rams right guard Adam Timmerman, who was in weight room doing therapy on his injured back during practice, said he learned about the Montgomery-Fairchild flap from teammates.
"I didn't see it, so I am the last person that should comment on it, but I'm sure it's something where somebody got on somebody's nerves, and it's over now and they are moving on," Timmerman said. " I don't think it is anything lingering or anything like that. We love those guys, and they've have had a good relationship in the past. They are ready to move on, I think. That's the word."
It's not uncommon for players to get into fights during practice, but coaches are another matter.
"They are around each other all the time, so they are bound to get on each other's nerves, just like anybody," Timmerman said.
The altercation comes a day after Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands with an article detailing the in-fighting among team management, including the feud between Martz and Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' president for football operations.
In the article, an anonymous player named only as a "disgruntled veteran" blamed defensive tackles Ryan "Big Grease" Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy and Damione Lewis, all first-round draft picks, for the team's 31-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.
"I don't have no comments on that, none at all," Pickett said. "I can't worry about what is going on in the tabloids and stuff like that."
Pickett also declined to comment on how he thought he had played this season.
"I don't worry about individual stats right now," Pickett said. "The fact of the matter is we're 4-5, and we have to win some games and everything else will fall in place."
One of the possible underpinnings for the tension between Montgomery and Fairchild was a general feeling in the locker room that the team didn't run the ball enough against the Seahawks.
Several players said that they were surprised that Steven Jackson got only 17 carries against the Seahawks after getting 45 carries in wins over New Orleans and Jacksonville in the team's two previous games.
"You'd love for Steven to get 20-25-plus carries, but that didn't happen," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "The situation is what it is. I think Coach will make it a point to run Steven this week, and run him often."
Timmerman said being effective at running the ball requires commitment.
"We had a few tackles for a loss, and that's tough for the play-caller when you don't get positive yardage in the run game," Timmerman said. "You can average five yards, but you're not going to get five yards on every play. It takes commitment."
Jackson was about the only one who wasn't complaining about his lack of carries against the Seahawks.
"I kind of expected that," Jackson said. "We had to get guys back into the groove of things, and we wanted to stretch them out. We were going against the No. 1 offense, and we have to put up points. You can't expect to run the ball too much."
Bruce said he hadn't read the Sports Illustrated article yet. He said losing tends to bring any problems into the spotlight.
"I just think it comes more to the forefront when you lose a game," Bruce said. "If you win, then if something happens, you may never hear anything about the situation."
Bruce said turmoil has been a part of everyday life during his 12 seasons in the Rams' organization.
"When I came here, it was pretty much the same thing," Bruce said. "Chuck Knox was the head coach and there was stuff flying around every day. I was taught way back then to just play football. Be a professional football player, with the key word being 'professional."'