By Bill Coats

The descent from starter to backup was particularly difficult for 13-year NFL veteran Todd Steussie.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," said Steussie, an offensive lineman signed recently by the Rams. "That was a humbling experience. But in a lot of ways, to be humbled is probably a positive thing in the long run. Adversity is where most of life's lessons are learned."

Steussie, 35, had started every game but one since his junior year at Agoura (Calif.) High before losing the right tackle job two years ago in Tampa Bay. Steussie played in every game last season for the Buccaneers, all as a reserve.

That's also the role the Rams envision for Steussie, signed to a one-year deal as a free agent. "He's obviously the ultimate swing guy," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's played both tackle positions (and) probably a lot less at guard."

Steussie was tempted to re-sign with the Bucs. "But they had a youth movement going on; the locker room was starting to look a little crowded," he explained. "I saw a better opportunity here."

That was especially true because Paul Boudreau, his position coach his first two seasons in Carolina, is the Rams' new offensive line coach. "I've always had a lot of respect for him," Steussie said. "From the moment I played under him at Carolina, we saw eye to eye technique-wise. What he preaches is what I do."

Steussie, 6 feet 6 and 320 pounds, has spent nearly all his time at tackle since Minnesota drafted him in the first round (19th overall) out of the University of California. He started 47 consecutive games at Cal, a school record since broken by Mark Wilson of the Washington Redskins.

In seven seasons with the Vikings and three with the Carolina Panthers, Steussie started 159 of 160 regular-season games. A knee injury in 1998 interrupted the streak.

The Panthers released Steussie in March 2004; he signed with Tampa Bay two weeks later. Steussie started early in the season before dropping to the second team.

"I feel like I still could start if given the opportunity," Steussie. "But it's also a game where coaches are always looking for the younger guy to develop. And I understand that. But if I'm given the opporunity to play, I plan to make the most of it."

In last weekend's minicamp, Steussie worked at left guard with the No. 1 unit. The incumbent there, rookie Claude Terrell, is recovering from a wrist injury and hasn't been cleared for contact.

"It gives Steussie some time in there; he hasn't done it for a while," Linehan said. "I just think it's good to ... create a competitive environment for the young guy."

Steussie said: "It's maybe working outside the comfort zone a little bit, but ... wherever they need me, I'm willing to go."

And if the Rams need him most to provide depth for the starters and mentor the youngsters, he's OK with that, too.

"You maybe don't get to compete as much on Sunday, but I enjoy the locker room, I enjoy the guys, I enjoy the competition during the week," he said. "I had some guys that when I first got in the league were able to advance my understanding of the game a lot quicker, and if that's my role on this team, I'll be happy to do it.

"It's an opportunity to continue a career that has changed a little bit over the years. But it's still a lot of fun, and I enjoy it quite a bit."