St. Louis Rams' Marc Bulger is out, Kyle Boller steps in

BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/18/2009

Life as a backup quarterback means you're always one play away from the spotlight. For Kyle Boller, that play took place Monday at Rams Park.

With the Rams working indoors because of rain, a center snap from Jason Brown doinked off the hands of quarterback Marc Bulger midway through practice. X-rays subsequently showed that Bulger had suffered a fractured pinky finger on his throwing hand. The two-time Pro Bowler will be sidelined at least two weeks.

"It kind of not really popped but I could tell he was hurting a little bit," Boller said. "He kind of stuck in there and went for a couple more (plays)."

But then Bulger headed off the practice field, and the next thing Boller knew, coach Steve Spagnuolo was in his ear.

"He said, 'You've got to go in right now,'" Boller said.

Boller took the rest of the practice reps with the starters in the morning, and took the full load with the first team in the afternoon.

During a situational goal-line period in the morning, Spagnuolo said Boller "pretty much did all the right things." And in the 7-on-7 passing period, "he stuck out," the coach said.

Nervous?

"Nah. You can't be nervous," Boller said. "That's part of the deal of being a backup. You've got to just be prepared to jump in there no matter the situation.

"It's not my first rodeo. I've been a starter. I've been out there. So I'm just going to go out there and be myself. Be a leader, and lead this team to hopefully a lot of scoring drives."

The No. 19 overall pick by Baltimore in 2003, Boller appeared in 53 games with 42 starts for the Ravens. He's that franchise's career leader in passing yards (7,846) but threw 44 interceptions to go with his 46 touchdown passes.

Last year in the Ravens' second exhibition game, a season-ending shoulder injury to Boller opened the door for rookie Joe Flacco at quarterback. Flacco nearly got the Ravens into the Super Bowl; Boller became expendable as an unrestricted free agent.

He signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with St. Louis, but only after the Rams got tired of waiting on Gus Frerotte. So Boller, 28, will start Friday against Atlanta, as well as the Rams' Aug. 27 contest at Cincinnati. But that should be it, unless Bulger's injury takes longer to heal than expected.

"There's what I'm going to call a small fracture in the pinky finger," Spagnuolo said. "It's not displaced, which is a good thing. ... You can't cast it. You don't do anything to it. He'll just tape it. We'll keep it immobilized for a couple of weeks, and we'll see where we are after that. He won't do very much for two weeks, just to be on the safe side."

Bulger was not made available to reporters Monday, but Spagnuolo said, "He's positive about it, and we'll stay positive about it, too."

Bulger came out for Monday afternoon's practice with the pinky finger taped to his ring finger. He stayed with the quarterbacks and near the offensive huddle during practice but didn't get any work.

During a special-teams period, he adjourned to the sidelines with strength coach Rock Gullickson. There, Bulger rode a stationary bike and lifted small free weights with both hands. After practice, Bulger jogged off the field, holding his helmet with his injured hand.

While Bulger heals, Boller, Brock Berlin and Keith Null will get more reps on the practice field and more playing time in the preseason.

"Everybody just kind of bumps up," Spagnuolo said. "There's a silver lining to it. We don't want anybody to get hurt, but we get to find out about some other guys."

Especially Boller. In three series in Friday's preseason opener against the New York Jets, Boller completed three of nine passes for 25 yards with a passer rating of 42.4. His best drive was a 63-yard field goal march at the end of the first half in which he completed short passes to Tim Carter, Antonio Pittman and Ronald Curry.

On the drive, he also threw a block that helped spring Pittman on a 20-yard run. Well, sort of a block.

"I kind of whiffed on that one," Boller said. "I wish I would've got him a little better. All I did was delay (the defender)."

Obviously, Boller won't be judged on his blocking skills in these coming preseason games. Rather, it will be his ability to manage the offense, complete passes and put points on the scoreboard.

"Being a backup, when your time is called, you've got to come in and answer," Boller said. "I look at this as an opportunity to go out there and execute."

And maybe change the pecking order at quarterback? Boller sidestepped the question as if dodging a pass rusher.

"If I'm the starter or I'm the backup, I'm going out there just to execute," Boller said. "That's all I can do, just take it one play at a time, do the best that I can do, and help this team win."