Wednesday, January 5, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Entering the season, defensive end Bryce Fisher was just another guy attempting to make a name for himself.
Easily lost in the shadow of star end Leonard Little, Fisher didn’t have to be a Pro Bowler, just a solid complement to Little, who was sure to start drawing double and triple teams. Now, Fisher has become one of the NFC’s top pass rushers in the past month.

For most of the season, Fisher has been up and down, but in the past four games, he has been a force. He was rewarded for his stout work when he was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month on Wednesday.

Fisher posted 31 tackles, five sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in the month to earn the honor. His performances in the past two weeks have probably been his best.

He earned the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his two-sack outing against Philadelphia on Dec. 27 and had 10 tackles and another pair of sacks against the Jets last week. Those performances helped Fisher become the team’s sack leader for the regular season with 8.5.

“I think I have played pretty well over the last couple of weeks,” Fisher said. “I had a couple of games early on in the year, but probably didn’t get noticed because we weren’t able to come out with a win. When we win, it’s easier to highlight guys who are playing well.”

Entering the season, Fisher was asked to replace fan favorite Grant Wistrom, who moved on to Seattle in the offseason. That was a tall order and one that Fisher might not have been ready to meet.

He played well early in the season, but he suffered a serious setback on Oct. 24 at Miami. Dolphins’ safety Tony Bua laid a devastating hit on Fisher on a punt that caused Fisher to lay grounded for awhile.

Coach Mike Martz called the hit one of the most vicious he has seen.

“I do know this. In my opinion, that hit that Fisher took down in Miami set him back quite some time,” Martz said. “That was a crushing blow. That’s the biggest hit that I’ve ever seen in football. It took him some time to get over that thing.”

The Rams went into the bye week after that, but Fisher had trouble recovering both mentally and physically.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but it shook me a little bit,” Fisher said. “It was definitely hard as far as I couldn’t breathe for a couple of weeks right and I was coughing up blood for another 10 days or so. I don’t think that was necessarily the reason for that four weeks or so when I didn’t play very well. It was more just not making plays when I had the opportunity.”

Now, Fisher is making the most of every opportunity he gets. His performance against the Eagles was even more impressive considering the fact that he was in on just 17 snaps.

His development has come at the right time for a Rams’ team that is rapidly improving on defense. A lot of that improvement can be attributed to the work of that “other” defensive end.

MORE HONORS ROLL IN: Fisher wasn’t the only Ram to be honored for his recent work. Quarterback Marc Bulger also garnered honors for his performance against the Jets.

Bulger was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort last week. He threw for 450 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Rams to an overtime victory against New York.

Martz said Bulger is playing at his best at an important time.

“Right now, he is playing at a level that I didn’t know he could get to this quickly,” Martz said. “I think both on an intellectual standpoint and just skill-wise. We often talk about how quarterbacks have the game slow down for them, I think it’s probably never been more true than in Marc’s case.”

INJURY REPORT: Running back Arlen Harris and left guard Tom Nütten are listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game against Seattle.

Nütten felt better than expected this week after suffering a sprained knee. Martz said there is a chance that Nütten would play against the Seahawks.

Nütten was held out of practice Wednesday, but he will more than likely return to practice Thursday. If Nütten can’t play, rookie Larry Turner will make his second career start.

Harris, meanwhile, has continued to have hamstring problems that could keep him out this weekend. Harris did not participate in Wednesday’s workout.

Listed as questionable with a strained groin is Little. Little suffered the injury in the second half against the Jets and missed most of the end of the game and overtime. He also sat out Wednesday’s practice.

Martz said holding Little out of practice was more precautionary and he expects Little to be ready to go in Seattle. Joining Little as questionable is defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson. Jackson sprained his ankle against New York and his status is probably more uncertain than Little’s for the weekend.

Jackson also did not practice Wednesday. Probable for Saturday are receiver Isaac Bruce, linebacker Brandon Chillar and Fisher. Bruce bruised his hip against the Jets, Chillar has a shoulder injury and Fisher tweaked his ankle.