By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
03/20/2007


While March Madness enthusiasm builds here as the Midwest Regional approaches, Rams Park also is abuzz with activity. The offseason conditioning program began Monday, marking the unofficial kickoff to the 2007 season.

After a taxing workout in the indoor facility, quarterback Marc Bulger employed his best deadpan when asked if the 2 1/2-month break after the end of the '06 season was too short. "No, we want to be here," Bulger said, grinning slyly.

Turning serious, Bulger said, "It's just a way to motivate yourself. I'm one of those guys that needs to be with everyone else to push myself that hard. Since I've been (with the Rams), I haven't missed a first day."

Some 25 teammates joined Bulger on the field, and several others trickled into Rams Park later in the day. The sessions are voluntary, but most of the players under contract are expected to participate.

The offseason program bleeds into OTAs (organized team activities) and the two spring minicamps. Training camp, which will be held at Rams Park for the third year in a row, begins in late July.

Dominique's difficulties

It's been a tough few weeks for tight end Dominique Byrd, a third-round draft pick last year. He was arrested earlier this month in Los Angeles on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. A couple of days later, the Rams signed free-agent tight end Randy McMichael.

McMichael, who averaged nearly 60 catches a season with Miami, moves to the top of the depth chart. Joe Klopfenstein, who started most of last season as rookie, is No. 2.

As for Byrd ...

"I just have to go into this offseason knowing that I'm going to work hard every day and make strides, and hope for the best," he said. "I'm just staying positive and focused on my workouts."

Byrd, 23, also is scheduled to stand trial here July 9. He was charged with assault and armed criminal action after a scuffle Dec. 4 at a local nightclub.

Asked whether he'd discussed his legal difficulties with coach Scott Linehan, Byrd said, "Yeah, I have. There's been nothing negative said. ... I'm a young guy, and there's always going to be bumps in the road. But I think they'll make me stronger in the end."

On the line

A year ago, Richie Incognito was coming off a knee injury that scuttled his entire rookie season and Brett Romberg was just hoping to maintain employment in the NFL.

Now, both loom as key components on the Rams' young offensive line. Incognito is the first-team right guard, a fact confirmed by the recent release of veteran Adam Timmerman, and Romberg is the returning starter at center.

Having a defined role "takes the worry out of it, and I can just get back to work," Incognito said. A third-round draftee in 2005, Incognito started all 16 games last year 12 at center, one at left guard and the last three at right guard after a rib injury sidelined Timmerman.

Romberg had played in just one regular-season game in three years with Jacksonville when the Rams signed him off the Jaguars' practice squad Sept. 12. He took over at center when Incognito shifted to right guard.

"This time last year, there were so many things in the air that I was really concerned about what my future would be like," Romberg said. "But I was given a great opportunity here."

Veteran Andy McCollum, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener last year, participated in parts of Monday's workout. He's still rehabbing but figures to be ready in time to challenge Romberg for the No. 1 job.

"Andy's obviously been a starter in this league for a long time and he's a great player," Romberg said. "It's going to be a nice competition for the two of us."