Tuesday, August 31, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

With about two weeks until the start of the regular season, anticipation is building around Rams Park. Not for the first kickoff, but for the return of All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace.

Pace, who has missed all of camp because of a contract stalemate, is expected to arrive at any time this week before St. Louis plays Oakland on Thursday at 9 p.m. Right tackle Kyle Turley was placed on injured reserve Saturday and will miss the season. Those pair of absences has left plenty of repetitions for other linemen to step up.

Rams’ coach Mike Martz said he doesn’t worry about Pace’s absence, but is pleased with the performances of his pair of former backup tackles.

“When he comes, I’ll welcome him with open arms,” Martz said. “Until then, we’ve got Grant (Williams), who is playing well and Scotty (Tercero). Whatever happens, happens, but I’m happy with the guys we have playing.”

While the line has seen new faces in different places for most of the preseason, the backup tackles have proved to be starter-capable. Williams, who has held down Pace’s spot on the left side and Scott Tercero, who has played on the right side, have been two of the Rams’ most pleasant surprises and consistent performers.

Williams has spent the better part of his career bouncing between the tackle positions and has made a habit of playing the role of Pace on the left side during training camp. Never satisfied to be backup, Williams worked extra hard in the offseason and shaved his weight down to 320 pounds. Williams’ 6-foot-7 frame holds the weight well and he said he notices a major difference.

“I’ve made a career out of going back and forth, so at this point it’s not a big deal,” Williams said. “It definitely feels like I’m moving better laterally, there’s a lot less pressure on my back. Just overall, I feel better.”

Williams, a nine-year veteran, will probably move to the right side when Pace returns, but Tercero’s improved play could provide Williams with a challenge. Williams is used to moving back and forth, but so is Tercero. Tercero’s flexibility allows him to play anywhere on the line. He played guard in college at California and center on last season’s practice squad.

The injury bug hasn’t stayed away from Williams and Tercero, either, but the ailments have been less severe. Williams sprained his right ankle and Tercero suffered a slight concussion against Washington.

Williams took some time to recover from the injury, which was buoyed by scar tissue from when he broke the foot two years ago, but he appears to be at full strength. He played most of the game Friday night and Martz said it was “his best game.”

Tercero, who didn’t play at all in 2003, was forced to sit out the second half after his concussion, but is fine. He has received effusive praise from Martz in recent weeks for his versatility, adaptability and team-oriented attitude.

Tercero said he is still getting used to playing again after so much time off, but is ready to take advantage of his chance, no matter where on the line it is.

“It’s hard not playing for a while and coming back into it,” Tercero said. “When you’re sitting around not playing, it’s not very fun. Wherever I play the best at and wherever the team puts me at, I’ll be happy playing there.”

Although Pace has yet to report, the consensus is that it will happen within days. It might seem as though Williams and Tercero wouldn’t want Pace’s return, so they could play, but both said they are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the “Big O.” Nobody more so than Williams.

“I would expect him to come in, probably tomorrow,” Williams said. “All you can do is work hard. If you get an injury, that’s part of the deal or if an All-Pro tackle comes in and you can’t play, then that’s part of the deal too. You have to be glad from a team standpoint that you have an All-Pro tackle.”

INJURY UPDATE: Linebacker Trev Faulk and guard Chris Dishman did not participate in Monday’s practice. Faulk had some slight hamstring tightness and sat out for precautionary reasons. Dishman rolled his ankle against Washington and had some swelling, according to Martz.

Running back Lamar Gordon continued his recovery from ankle surgery, as he practiced and did team drills for the first time in weeks.

Cornerback DeJuan Groce (knee), guard Tom Nutten (turf toe), tackle Jeremy Phillips (neck) and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (broken foot) sat out also.

BACK TO WORK: The Rams resumed practice Monday afternoon after a couple of days off. The time was much needed after St. Louis played two games in five days.

The practice was held outdoors behind what Martz called the “Great Wall of St. Louis.” The “wall” is actually a large net attached to some poles. Martz said the wall was put up after a few practices at the outdoor facility because they caught someone filming practice from the corner window of the Residence Inn across the street.

The game against the Raiders is the final preseason contest before the Sept. 12 season-opener.