Wednesday, August 23, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Last year around this time, Larry Turner was entering his second year as a Ram. Although he knew his roster spot was anything but certain, Turner was fairly confident that he was going to be the backup center for starter Andy McCollum.

Then, on Sept. 3, Turner received some surprising and bad news. A position he felt somewhat comfortable in was not going to be his.

Turner was waived and released.

“I was kind of surprised,” Turner said. “I kind of had a feeling that something might have been wrong because of some of the things that were going on as far as the number count. I just had a feeling, but I was telling myself it wasn’t going to happen as long as you go out and work your butt off. That’s what I did and I thought I did that well last preseason. Things just didn’t go the way I planned it. That’s life. You have to deal with it.”

Turner dealt with it by returning home to work at his alma mater, Wayne High in Huber Heights, Ohio, as a substitute teacher after not signing a contract upon visits with the Vikings and Texans. Eventually, Turner landed with Cincinnati, but that lasted only a week and Turner had to become a teacher again while trying to work out and help coach the football team.

After a few months of waiting, Turner finally got the call to return to football. After guard Tom Nütten was lost for the season because of a neck injury, the Rams brought Turner back on Nov. 16.

By the time the season was over, Turner appeared in six games. Turner is a natural center, but played guard against Houston and Washington.

During the offseason, the Rams underwent a serious makeover, starting with the coaches. With the new coaching staff in place and some new faces along the offensive line, it’s been a fresh start for Turner and his linemates.

“The past couple of training camps we’ve had really low numbers,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “We’ve been rotating guys and bringing guys out of retirement and a lot of that stuff going on. I think as far as numbers we have good depth and good competition. I think competition does nothing but help the team.”

Turner is working as the second-team center once again behind McCollum. And though his release in 2005 came as a bit of a surprise to Turner and others close to the organization, it came mostly because of Turner’s struggles to grasp the offense and the calls necessary to be the center.

Veteran line coach Paul Boudreau has taken over as offensive line coach and there have been some serious adjustments to how the offensive line works.

In the past, the center has observed the defense and made the call for the offensive line’s blocking scheme. Now, there is much more give and take among the linemen.

For example, right tackle Alex Barron might see a safety creeping toward the line and it’s his job to alert the guards and center about it. That information will then be passed down the line.

Turner believes those changes can only be good in helping to build chemistry along the line.

“It works out because it gets us communicating more, it gets us understanding more of the defenses and just lets us know what we are looking at and what the defense is trying to do to us,” Turner said. “It makes us more alert. If you know more than your opponent you will be able to play faster and play better.”

Many of the offensive linemen believe that should make for a better performance by the group as a whole in 2006. The starting line seems set with Orlando Pace and Barron at tackle, Timmerman and Richie Incognito at guard and McCollum at center.

The final cut day is Sept. 2 with the first cut to 75 coming on Aug. 29. The Rams will probably keep nine or 10 linemen. It appears rookie guard Mark Setterstrom and veteran Todd Steussie are safe in their positions, but there will be plenty of competition for the other spots. That battle will probably come down to Blaine Saipaia, Claude Terrell, Turner, Ben Noll, and Tony Palmer

With Boudreau and assistant line coach Jim Chaney in place, Turner feels reborn. He has been given another chance and is competing with undrafted rookie Donovan Raiola for the backup center spot.

“I feel I am probably 10 times better as far as knowledge of the game and understanding,” Turner said. “That just goes back to Coach Boudreau and what he has taught me so far and learning defenses and what triggers blitzes and type of line movements and getting the line in the right position.”

Even with his improved understanding of the game and his grasp of the new offense, Turner has learned an important lesson about taking things for granted. He insists that he will have no regrets at the end of this camp.

Consider that a lesson learned after his surprising release last year.

“I don’t want to leave any doubt in those coaches’ minds,” Turner said. “When they put on the film and see me out there, I want them to see me going 100 miles an hour; making sure I know my assignments, so that way there is no doubt at least in my mind. If something were to happen, I can say at least I worked my butt off, I did everything I can do in my power, I have no regrets.”