By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
08/02/2004
MACOMB, Ill. - A disappointed and frustrated Kyle Turley headed back to St. Louis on Sunday for further tests and evaluation of a back problem that doesn't seem to want to go away.

Meanwhile, the Rams are bringing in reinforcements for an offensive line that has been short-handed since the start of training camp. Offensive tackle Greg Randall arrived in Macomb early Sunday evening for a physical, and later was signed to a one-year contract. He is on the practice field this morning.

Randall started 16 games for the Houston Texans last year. He played his first three seasons in the NFL for the New England Patriots, and started at right tackle in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.

The Rams also were attempting to bring in guard-center Chris Dishman, the former Arizona Cardinal, to help their depth on the interior of the line. But as of Sunday evening, the Rams had been unable to contact Dishman, causing some team officials to wonder if he was still interested in playing.

Before heading to St. Louis, Turley told reporters that he considered the latest setback career threatening.

"It was a threat to my career last year," Turley said. "But for it to have possibly reoccurred is definitely a bigger threat."

Turley experienced nagging pain in his hip last season. After the season, the source of the pain was diagnosed as a herniated disk in his lower back, and Turley underwent surgery in March.

Coach Mike Martz pronounced Turley fit at the outset of camp, but Turley has practiced only about half the time over the first five days here at Western Illinois University because of back pain.

"I came out here in hopes of everything being OK," Turley said. "And everything kind of felt fine. But I went through the first day of practice, and it didn't seem like it was completely right.

"I expressed my feelings about it. The idea was to come back out and see how it goes. We did it, and I don't know if that was necessarily the right thing to do."

In addition to getting checked out in St. Louis, Turley said he might see a specialist in Los Angeles.

"We're attacking it right now, with some heavy anti-inflammatories," he said. "And we're going to see these people and see what they have to say."

Turley had an MRI Saturday in Macomb and termed the results "not good."

Turley added, "I'm not doing the surgery again. I'm not going through that again."

With or without surgery, Turley is concerned that any additional deterioration of the disk won't leave much cushion between the vertebrae.

"The biggest fear is bone on bone," Turley said. "I don't want that to happen and be a hunchback and an inch shorter by the time I'm 40."

Although sensitive to Turley's discomfort, team officials aren't overly concerned with the latest setback. Turley may simply need a few days - or more - off his feet. But they're taking no chances. Thus, the additional examination.

"Obviously, we're all disappointed that his back is still a problem," Martz said. "He's struggling with it. So we'll just have to see.

"Any time there's a player as competitive as Kyle is, he's very, very frustrated right now to have an injury like this. And he's a guy that's experienced pretty good health throughout his career. So whenever a player has this kind of injury, and he can't go, they get a little depressed and down in the dumps about it."

With the regular season still six weeks away, Martz said, "We've got some time on this. We're going to be very careful with him."

Randall, 26, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2000 out of Michigan State. He started 23 regular-season games for New England over three seasons, then was traded to Houston for a fifth-round draft pick in 2003.

But after a year with Houston, he became expendable when the Texans signed Todd Wade in free agency. Randall signed with San Francisco last April but was released by the ***** on June 16.

Known as more of a run blocker than a pass blocker, Randall has struggled at times over his career with his weight and conditioning. Originally, the ***** wanted him to play right guard as well as right tackle. But he didn't make a quick adjustment to guard, and then the ***** drafted Alabama guard Justin Smiley in the second round less than a week after signing Randall.

With Orlando Pace still absent because of another contract impasse, and with Turley's injury, the Rams currently are lining up with Grant Williams at left tackle and second-year man Scott Tercero at right tackle in Macomb.

Dishman is a roster possibility because center Dave Wohlabaugh's hip problems have forced the Rams to move starting left guard Andy McCollum to center. Dishman is considered a better guard than a center.