Sunday, April 23, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Todd Steussie failed his first test in fitting in with the Rams offensive line this weekend.

When asked if he likes doughnuts, Steussie shrugged and said he isn’t much of a doughnut kind of guy. That doesn’t bode well for fitting in with the Doughnut Bros., guard Adam Timmerman and Andy McCollum.

But, when Steussie was asked to slide in as a guard because of injuries that limited the likes of McCollum, Timmerman and Claude Terrell, he seemed to fit right in.

It’s that versatility and willingness to do whatever his coaches ask of him that make Steussie the perfect elder statesman to lead the way for the younger linemen.

“He’s obviously the ultimate swing guy,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He has played both tackle positions, probably a lot less at guard. I think it creates a great competitive environment for the guard spot. We have been without Adam and Andy because they are rehabbing. We’ll give Steussie some time; he hasn’t been there for a while and a chance to learn the offense. He already knows tackle. He could go out there tomorrow and be right at home. I think it’s good to put him in there and create a competitive environment for the young guys.”

Of course, Steussie comes to the Rams with much more on the resume than the ability to play anywhere along the line and a teaching certificate. He went to a pair of Pro Bowls, both with Minnesota, and comes to the Rams after a fairly distinguished 12-year career.

Steussie’s playing time has decreased in recent seasons, though. He began his career in Minnesota in 1994, playing there until signing with Carolina in 2001. After a trio of seasons with the Panthers, Steussie moved on to Tampa Bay in 2004. He started five games that year at right tackle for the Bucs before being relegated to the bench as Tampa Bay began looking to get younger on the offensive line.

“They had a youth movement going on and that was kind of evident,” Steussie said. “The locker room started to look a little crowded so I saw a better opportunity to come here.”

That isn’t to say that Steussie was guaranteed any kind of starting job or anything, but there were a number of factors working in favor of the Rams when it came time for Steussie’s decision.

First, his familiarity with offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, who was his offensive line coach at Carolina in 2001 and 2002. There, Boudreau and Steussie built a strong relationship based on trust and fundamentals.

“From the moment I played with him in Carolina we saw eye to eye technique wise,” Steussie said. “That was something where what he preaches is what I do.”

In addition to the relationship he built with Boudreau, Steussie was looking for an opportunity to come in and become a mentor for some of the younger linemen in the league. The Rams have plenty of experience on the line in the likes of tackle Orlando Pace, Timmerman and McCollum, but there is also plenty of youth.

Guards Richie Incognito, Claude Terrell, Ben Noll and Blaine Saipaia, center Larry Turner and prized right tackle Alex Barron are all still learning the nuances of the game and Linehan’s offensive system.

It can never hurt those players to have another player learning with them but also to serve as a sounding board and teacher. That’s a role Steussie happily embraces.

In fact, it’s something Steussie has been forced to embrace as his role in the games has diminished.

“I had some guys when I first got in the league that were able to advance my understanding of the game a lot quicker,” Steussie said. “If that’s my role on this team, I will be happy to do it with some of the young guys too. It’s an opportunity to continue a career that maybe has changed a little over the years, but it’s still a lot of fun and I enjoy it.”

The situation on the Rams’ offensive line has been wild in recent years. First, there was the long search for stability at right tackle that was finally found in Barron last year. Injuries have also plagued the unit for the better part of the past two seasons. That’s made the role of backup tackle an important one. It’s a role that was never really filled a year ago and one Steussie will be saddled with.

That said, things have gotten off to an interesting start since Steussie signed with the team on April 17. For most of this weekend’s minicamp Steussie took repetitions at left guard in place of an injured Terrell. Steussie isn’t sure where that experiment is headed but seems willing to grasp it.

“I was told I might be playing a little guard and a little guard turned out to be all left guard,” Steussie said. “Wherever they need me, I am willing to go. I am excited about the opportunity and we’ll see how things go from here.”

Steussie says he hasn’t started at guard since he played collegiately at California. But he did get some reps at guard in Tampa when others were out with injuries.

More than likely, Steussie won’t be staying at guard with the anticipated return of Terrell and Timmerman and the emergence of Incognito, but for now it’s good to get the work in case he has to help out.

Most would fear having another Rex Tucker situation after Tucker moved from guard to tackle last year and struggled mightily at both positions. Steussie hasn’t had near the injury history of Tucker, though, and seems to be in solid enough shape to contribute anywhere should the need arise.

With his role likely limited to a need be situation, it would make some wonder why a player with Steussie’s resume would continue to play after being relegated to the bench.

Maybe he doesn’t love doughnuts, but there are plenty of other things he still loves. And that’s what keeps him coming back.

“It’s better than working for a living,” Steussie said. “I still enjoy it. You have to enjoy it in different ways when the last two years I have been a backup. You have to find different things about it that you enjoy. You maybe don’t get to compete as much on Sundays, but I enjoy the locker room, I enjoy the guys, I enjoy the competition during the week. I enjoy pushing the young guys and helping them out.”