By Bill Coats

Wednesday, Sep. 07 2005

According to coach Mike Martz, the Rams are on Pace for big things on offense
this season. Pun intended.

With left tackle Orlando Pace having a full training camp and exhibition
schedule behind him for the first time since 2002, the attack is primed as
Sunday's regular-season opener in San Francisco approaches.

"Just the fact that he's been here ... allows us to insert things that at this
time last year we couldn't do, because we had to wait for him to get in and get
him up to speed," Martz said. "One guy can keep the entire offense under wraps
until the season starts, and that's what's happened the last two years. With
him here now, we've been able to move on."

Pace, who has been selected for six consecutive Pro Bowls, was absent from the
past two training camps, showing up just before the start of the season after
signing one-year tenders as the team's franchise player.

In March, he finally got the long-term contract he'd been seeking, a seven-year
deal worth $52.9 million.

He participated in organized team activities and minicamp in the spring, and
has endured only a slightly sprained ankle and "a few nicks and bruises" since
camp opened July 28. Pace, 29, acknowledged that he, too, notices the
difference in his readiness for the opener.

"Just being around here, being in meetings and learning and getting coached, I
feel a lot better than I did last year about this time," said the 6-foot-7,
325-pound Ohio State product who is entering his ninth NFL season. "I'm pretty
healthy and the legs feel pretty good. I think Coach Martz has done a great job
in keeping us fresh, and we'll be ready to fly around on Sunday."


Pickett plans to play

Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett reported only minor soreness in his back after
Monday's practice. Even though he was listed as questionable on Wednesday's
injury report, Pickett promised that he'd be ready to go against the *****.

"I was a little sore, but other than that, I'm great," he said. "I'll be in
there Sunday, most definitely."

Pickett, who was injured Aug. 6 in the Rams' practice at Washington University,
missed the last three exhibition games.

"I was pretty nervous until Monday," he said. "I've seen a million people for
my back, and all the treatment I got ... I guess it finally paid off."


Bruce moves up

With the retirement Monday of Jerry Rice, Rams wideout Isaac Bruce moved to the
top of the list in career receiving yards among active players. That fact
wasn't lost on the 12th-year pro out of Memphis State.

"It's big. But Jerry will always been No. 1 in my eyes," Bruce said. "He's what
every receiver in this league aims to be. We'll miss him."

Rice, 42, holds 38 league records, including most career catches (1,549),
receiving yards (22,895) and touchdowns (208). Bruce, a four-time Pro Bowler
who will turn 33 next month, has 777 receptions, 11,753 yards and 74 TDs.

Asked whether he thought he could reach Rice's numbers, Bruce said firmly, "I
believe I can."

Asked then whether he was committed to another decade or so in the league in
that quest, Bruce deadpanned: "I said I believe I can. I didn't say I will."


Barron is excited

As Bruce extends his career, Alex Barron is just beginning his. Barron, the
Rams' first-round draft choice in April, will begin the season as the backup to
Pace at left tackle.

"It's always exciting going into something new, a new era of football, new
schemes and new plays," Barron said. "As the week goes on, it gets more
exciting."

Although he missed the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp because of contract
dispute, Barron played in three of the Rams' four exhibition games.

Barron said the experience allowed him to allay any anxiety about making the
jump from Florida State University to the NFL.

"Competing against some of the guys you've seen on TV before ... it was kind of
what I expected," he said. "I'd heard that it was a lot faster, and it is. Guys
are bigger and stronger."


Ram-blings

As expected, the Rams completed their eight-man practice squad by adding rookie
tight end Jerome Collins.

Running back Marshall Faulk was back at practice Wednesday. He was absent
Monday because of the flu.

Rookie fullback Madison Hedgecock has switched to No. 44 from No. 38.