Thursday, December 16, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

While things on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams seem to be settling in, the same can’t be said for the offense.

If it wasn’t bad enough losing quarterback Marc Bulger to a sprained right shoulder and running backs Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk to bruised knees, the offensive line is as bruised and battered as any unit on the team.

Injuries and inconsistency have plagued St. Louis’ offensive line for most of the season and that has led to some tense moments. Bulger has taken many hits and that finally caught up to him against San Francisco on Dec. 5. Bulger began throwing again Wednesday and did some more Thursday, but is still questionable for Sunday’s game at Arizona.

In addition to the injuries behind the offensive line, there is not a single Rams’ lineman who has been completely healthy all season.

Rams coach Mike Martz said injuries have been the biggest cause of the line’s inconsistency.

“I think it’s a little bit more complicated than the mindset,” Martz said. “We just have to have them ready. We’ll give some of these other guys some repetitions. It’s not a question of wanting to play good or the effort or anything. That’s never been the issue with these guys. They are just banged up, trying to fight through it and struggling a little bit. We have to do the right thing by these guys and give them the opportunity to get back physically.”

Specifically, the guard position has been the most depleted this week. Right guard Adam Timmerman has yet to appear on the injury report, but he missed most of Wednesday and Thursday’s practices because of shoulder problems.
Timmerman, who has joined fellow Doughnut Brother Andy McCollum as the Death and Taxes of the group, is usually impossible to keep out of practice. Martz said he practically has to force Timmerman to sit out.

“Adam will not come out of practice, he just refuses,” Martz said. “He gets upset with it, and says he can’t leave his guys. It’s a very emotional thing for him; he’s the rock out there. Everything is kind of built around him in that offensive line, and if he leaves that huddle, even in practice for a minute, he has a hard time with that.”

On the left side, Tom Nütten continues to struggle with foot and knee problems. Earlier this season, he missed time with a severe case of turf toe. He was limited in practice the past couple of days, also.

Nütten replaced Chris Dishman at left guard when Dishman tore some ligaments in his knee. Dishman returned to practice Wednesday and did little on Thursday, but isn’t likely to return this week and his status for the rest of the season remains in question.

If Nütten and or Timmerman aren’t able to play, that leaves rookie Larry Turner and Darnell Alford as the backup options. Turner is the more likely of the two to start in case Nütten or Timmerman can’t go.

Martz said that Turner has earned the chance to play if need be.

“He deserves the opportunity, he’s absolutely good enough,” Martz said. “I don’t have any problems with he or Darnell (Alford) going into guard at this point. They’ve been in our system long enough and they’ve done very well in practice. They have a certain air about them, a calmness. This isn’t too big for either one of them. I’m not worried about that part of it.”

The seventh-round choice out of Eastern Kentucky was drafted as a center and has played there for most of his time with the Rams this season. Turner did, however, spend his sophomore and junior seasons as a guard.

That has made Turner’s adjustment this week easy and he is approaching it like any other week. More than anything, Turner is looking forward to getting his opportunity. He hasn’t played since the preseason and has spent his time in practice alternating between scout team center and first-team guard.

Offensive line coaches have worked more with Turner in recent weeks, not just with his on the field work, but also his study habits. That has given Turner a chance to watch film and look for tendencies of defenders with Matsko.
Turner said he is excited about possibly playing and should have no trouble playing guard.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been out there being able to come up there and hit somebody,” Turner said. “At guard, you are kind of like on an island…it’s you and him. It’s more physical. It’s more fun. It’s a lot easier to get pancakes when you are at guard.”

The tackle position has not been injury-free, either. Starting right tackle Grant Williams has an arthritic shoulder and was replaced last week by Blaine Saipaia. Saipaia held his own against Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers last week and is still improving.

Left tackle Orlando Pace has not even been up to his usual Pro-Bowl standard. Although Pace has been solid, he has had trouble continuing to play at the level everyone has grown accustomed to. He has battled thigh and knee injuries, also.

“He can play better,” Martz said. “He’s not playing bad, but he can play better. He can be a dominate player, and at times he is.”

Meanwhile, McCollum continues to be the most consistent performer on the line at center. Every week it seems McCollum is earning praise for his effort.

McCollum said he is growing frustrated with the overall effort of the group and the team and that needs to change as soon as possible.

“We just have to get better,” McCollum said. “The whole team has to get better. As a group, as an offensive line, we have to take it upon ourselves to come out this week and perform like we have in the past, like the first time we played these guys. Hopefully we can get the run game going and mix it up and throw the ball a little bit.”

RUNNING BACK UPDATE: Jackson and Faulk appear likely to be in the lineup this weekend and will probably get plenty of carries, especially if Bulger is unable to play.

Jackson is still struggling with swelling in his right knee, but he practiced Wednesday and Thursday. He is listed as questionable, but said he expects to play Sunday.

“I got a practice under my belt and it felt pretty good, but as the week progresses, we are going to see how it reacts,” Jackson said. “I’m preparing (to play).”

Faulk also practiced Wednesday and appeared to be back to the condition he was in before he bruised the knee, but he was limited Thursday. He has been out since the Green Bay game on Nov. 29.

INJURY REPORT: Jackson, Bulger and Dishman are questionable. Cornerbacks Jerametrius Butler (knee) and Travis Fisher (knee), linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (shoulder) and tackle Grant Williams (shoulder) are probable.

Bulger, Butler, Dishman, Fisher, Tinoisamoa and Williams missed parts or all of practice