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USA Today's Inside Slant

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  • USA Today's Inside Slant

    Rams coach Mike Martz issued an apology for sometimes questioning the toughness of running back Lamar Gordon, who underwent surgery Aug. 10 to remove a bone chip from his ankle. Other coaches had also questioned Gordon's ability to play with pain, considering he had complained of ankle problems since joining the Rams in 2002.

    Said Martz, "He has had that for as long as we have had him. The thing that's remarkable about him, is that I didn't know how tough he was. I'm embarrassed and ashamed of my attitude towards it. When a guy is (complaining of pain), you've just got to trust what he's telling you. And this is one of the times in my career, I feel humiliated and feel stupid. I owe him an apology, because he certainly is very tough. We MRIed it. We did X-rays. They did every diagnostic test they could and finally there was a little irregularity in there. You couldn't see it, but because of the consistent complaint, just to look at it. I owe him an apology because he is very tough.

    "We just didn't know because there wasn't any swelling. When there is no swelling in the ankle and you have a lot of pain, we were wondering what was wrong. You know he has character and he is a tough kid. He's so talented. Look at what he has done on that bad ankle. We all got excited about him with the bad ankle. He might be pretty good without the bad ankle, don't you think?"

    Gordon said the frustration was always building and he knew coaches were questioning him.

    "We did all these tests, and they didn't find anything," Gordon said. "So I'm really thinking, 'I'm making this up myself.' It really flared up as camp went on. I was watching myself on film (of practice), and I was looking terrible. I was hurting so bad, I knew something was wrong. I couldn't even take it any more."

    This was one of those cases where the player was grateful an injury was found.

    "I'm just excited to go through the surgery process, get this healed up, and move on and play some ball," Gordon said.

    He was walking around camp with a boot, and was already feeling better.

    "I can pretty much walk around without it, but they're worried about my ankle swelling up, and splitting the stitches," Gordon said. "Because there's no pain when I walk."

    After the surgery Aug. 10, it was said Gordon would be out four weeks. That would project to Sept. 7, five days before the team's season opener against Arizona.

    He hopes to be ready for the opener, but knows he has to be patient.

    "I'm going to push myself, but at the same time, it's still surgery," he said. "You've got to let the body heal from it. It was nothing like reconstructive surgery or anything. So that's not the problem. Everything in there, I think, is fine. It's just actually the cut, and the muscle they had to go through. So I just have to let that get back strong."

    CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp in Macomb, Ill., ended Aug. 20.


    —Cornerback DeJuan Groce, in his second season and making progress as a potential nickel back, suffered a minor knee injury in practice that had him initially scared.

    "I feel a little better," Groce said after having to go back to St. Louis for an MRI. "The tests come out negative, so I'm happy about that. It was a relief when I got the information. I just took a deep breath and thanked God."

    Groce had to do the six-hour round trip from Macomb to St. Louis because he couldn't get the MRI done in Macomb.

    "For some reason they only do it on Tuesday here," Groce said. "Going down there I was thinking about it because you never know what is going to happen with an MRI. You may have done something worse than what you think."

    —LB Tommy Polley, who has started since his 2001 rookie season, was put on notice last week when he was replaced in the starting lineup by Tony Newson. Rookie fourth-round pick Brandon Chillar also took reps with the first unit at Polley's strong-side spot.

    Newson was told he would be running with the first group 20 minutes before the team's first practice after the Aug. 12 game against the Bears. Newson had replaced weak-side starter Pisa Tinoisamoa when he injured an ankle against the Bears.

    "It gave me a chance to kind of earn a little bit of the coach's trust," Newson said. "So I thought I did pretty good."

    Newson had been with the Chiefs in 2002-03 when Joe Vitt, now the Rams' linebackers coach was with Kansas City.

    "I know his terminology," Newson said of Vitt. "I know the way he's going to coach. I know what he expects of me. There's somewhat of a comfort to it. But you've still got to go out there and perform no matter who the coach is."

    Said coach Mike Martz of the change, "This isn't just something from a practice or a situation; this is over time. We've discussed this with Tommy. He knows the situation, what he needs to do."

    But Martz insisted that the game is far from over.

    "This happens all the time in camp," he said. "We're trying combinations to see what the best combination is. We haven't settled on our final three yet, by any stretch of the imagination."

    —Rookie defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove is being given some time at defensive tackle, largely because coaches are pleased with ends Bryce Fisher and Erik Flowers on the right side.

    "We just think with his speed, size and strength that he might be able to add something for us in there," coach Mike Martz said. "We'll look him at him a little bit."

    Said Hargrove, who missed two days of camp to tend his family in hurricane ravaged Punta Gorda, Fla., "Coach Martz told me that he thinks the way I come off the ball and the way I play, that's a natural fit for me. I think it's going to be a real comfortable move for me."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some of the young guys think we have a lot in now, and they haven't seen anything yet. It's only going to get a lot more complicated and lot more complex." — QB Marc Bulger on where the Rams are with installation of the offense.


    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tony Newson, Brandon Chillar and Tommy Polley for starting strong-side LB job: Polley played well in a scrimmage against the Bears Aug. 7, but didn't fare as well five days later in the first preseason game. Newson had been flashing all camp, and will be given a chance to see how he plays against other team's starters. Chillar missed a lot of offseason work because he wasn't able to report to the team until mid-June. Then he missed a few days of practice in camp with a shoulder injury.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Mike Brake, Nick Burley and Ryan Prince for third TE job: The question is whether the Rams will keep one of these tight ends or simply use Erik Jensen in a combination tight end/fullback role. Burley is a converted defensive end, who has shown progress, while Brake has also impressed the coaches with his ability. Prince was cut by San Diego before training camp, but has competed well.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: TE Brandon Manumaleuna: There were raised eyebrows when the Rams matched a five-year offer to Manumaleuna made by Carolina. However, he lost 13 pounds in the offseason, and has been more aggressive in camp, using his size (he still weighs 275 pounds) to his advantage.

    ROOKIE REPORT: RB Steven Jackson (first round), missed some practices to rest his leg, but continues to improve as a receiver and blocker. ... DL Anthony Hargrove (third) is getting a look at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. ... LB Brandon Chillar (fourth) has been making a move after a slow camp start, and is competing for playing time on the string side. ... S Jason Shivers (fifth) has fallen behind some veterans, and has to make an impact on special teams. ... FB Erik Jensen (seventh) returned to practice after missing two weeks because of a knee injury and is blocking well. ... C Larry Turner (seventh) is entrenched as the backup at center and has progressed extraordinarily well for a late-round pick.

    INJURY IMPACT: For their practice Aug. 21, two days before a Monday night game against Kansas City, the Rams had only seven players sidelined by injuries: OT Kyle Turley (back), RB Lamar Gordon (ankle), CB DeJuan Groce (knee), DT Jimmy Kennedy (foot), FB Joey Goodspeed (hamstring), CB Robert Cromartie (hamstring) and tackle Jeremy Phillips (neck) ... Returning to full pads were TE Cam Cleeland (hamstring), WR Kevin Curtis (shin splints), LB Tony Newson (hamstring) and DT Bernard Holsey (quad).

Related Topics


  • RamWraith
    Newcomer Newson Makes Move
    by RamWraith

    It would be easy for Tony Newson to get complacent. After spending a little more than a year out of football altogether, he practiced with the first-team defense at strongside linebacker for St. Louis on Sunday.

    He could now rest on his laurels and enjoy the fact that he seems to have locked up a roster spot with a legitimate chance at cracking the starting lineup. Newson, of course, won’t do that. He doesn’t know the easy way out because he has never had it easy.

    The 6-foot-1, 247-pound linebacker entered training camp simply hoping to make the roster, perhaps by way of special teams. “Coming to camp, I had to prove myself,” Newson said. “It was trying to establish yourself and let everybody know that you are accountable for what you do.”

    For the time being, Newson appears to have shown that he is capable. Coming out of Utah State in 2002, Newson signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent. He was on the practice squad before moving on to the Chiefs for the final four games of the season.

    In 2003, Newson entered training camp with hopes of improving and perhaps playing more. Those hopes were dashed when he fractured his sternum early in training camp. The Chiefs cut him before the season started and Newson went to work in the real world.

    He spent time working many jobs and rehabilitating from the injury. He worked with emergency medical technicians, telemarketing and as a business representative. Newson said time spent in the “real” world helped him appreciate his opportunities in football. “Anytime you’re out for an entire year, a lot goes through your mind,” Newson said. “Of course, you are a lot more hungry than you were before.”

    Newson signed with the Rams on March 15. It didn’t hurt Newson’s cause that Joe Vitt, the only linebackers coach he has had, moved from Kansas City to St. Louis in the offseason. Newson was familiar with Vitt’s terminology and infectious enthusiasm for the game, making the adjustment that much easier. “I’m more comfortable with him and his teaching methods,” Newson said. “It helps a lot.”

    In his pursuit of the starting job, Newson moved past Tommy Polley, who had started for the better part of the past three years. Polley has been one of the teams’ top tacklers in that time, finishing second on the team in stops last season with 115.

    Coach Mike Martz said competition is a big part of training camp and the move is by no means permanent.
    “This happens all the time in camp,” Martz said. “We are trying different combinations and seeing what the best combination is. “We haven’t settled on our final three yet by any stretch of the imagination.”

    While Newson isn’t sure that he will remain with the top unit, he is sure that it is where he wants to be. Polley will almost certainly respond to the move with an intense finish to his camp. If anything...
    -08-17-2004, 10:12 AM
  • Nick
    Rams Inside Slant
    by Nick
    Inside Slant

    He might have been briefly in coach Mike Martz's doghouse before training camp started, but running back Steven Jackson has done everything in his power to win back the coach's good graces in training camp.

    Martz had said Jackson was out of shape, didn't know the offense and wasn't in attendance at a precamp the team had before leaving for training camp. Jackson was unsigned at the time, but quickly signed a five-year contract and got to work.

    He would routinely stay after practice getting pointers from running back Marshall Faulk, and was showing all the attributes the Rams believed he had when they traded up to pick him in the first round of April's draft.

    In a scrimmage against the Bears Aug. 7, he showed good hands and pass-catching ability on a 22-yard play. Then, in the first exhibition game last Thursday, also against the Bears, Jackson rushed 15 times for 73 yards and added four receptions for 18 yards.

    One reason given for the Cowboys passing on Jackson is that he had arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason. Martz acknowledged his knee is still not 100 percent.

    "His leg, where he had his scope, is not quite as strong as it used to be," Martz said. "You can see that. He favors it a little bit."

    Still, most important, is that he did a solid job picking up blitzes. Martz wasn't upset that the Bears blitzed in such an early game because it gave the offense an opportunity to work against it.

    Said Martz of Jackson, "Offensively, Steven is learning the offense, he's getting better. He still doesn't have the leg strength back yet that he will have eventually. He's still learning our offense, but he did a terrific job in pass blocking, which for a rookie, is a big challenge. He did a great job in recognizing blitzes and getting over. Fortunately, they did blitz us, and that's good for us, because with him back there, he has to get tested before the season starts."

    Asked about Jackson's prior experience in that phase of the game, Martz said, "He was tuned in and that's what's impressive about him. I was very impressed with that. That's very important. I'm pleased with him in his progress. I really am. He still has a long way to go. He's very talented. He's a little bit of a misguided missile right now. The hardest thing about a running back is, he's still not familiar with the angles we are trying to block and the anticipation, and setting guys up. He doesn't know this running game like he will. There's a lot to be said for that. It's just like a quarterback coming in and not knowing where the receivers are. You can kind of guess, but it affects you a little bit."

    CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opened at Macomb, Ill., July 27, with the first practice the following day. The Chicago Bears traveled to Macomb for an afternoon practice Aug. 5, two practices...
    -08-16-2004, 09:47 PM
  • RamWraith
    Rams Begin Prep for Washington
    by RamWraith
    hursday, August 26, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    After a couple days of consistently bad news, the Rams got some good news Tuesday night. Quarterback Marc Bulger had an MRI on his left knee Tuesday, but the results came back the way he hoped, revealing there was no damage. Had Bulger suffered a serious injury, it would have been the next in an extensive line of blows for the Rams in the preseason.

    Kyle Turley’s back remains a question, Dave Wohlabaugh was released because of a hip injury, Jimmy Kennedy broke his foot and Travis Fisher broke his right forearm. None of that would compare to a Bulger injury that would cause him to miss an extended period. Fortunately for the Rams, it appears they have little to worry about in Bulger’s case.

    Bulger said his knee is going to be fine. “It’s good,” Bulger said. “We just had an MRI just because we didn’t have the extra time to evaluate it after a day or two. With the short week, we just wanted to get a quicker diagnosis. I think you can usually tell when you’re injured, but I think it was just more precautionary.” Bulger said his knee was sore and he might be limited with running in the next few days, but he expects to play against Washington on Friday night.

    Coach Mike Martz said Tuesday that Bulger was spun around and might have been hit on the kneecap when he was sacked in the first half against Kansas City on Monday night. Bulger played the entire first half before calling it a night. In his stint, Bulger was eight-of-15 for 67 yards and an interception. The Chiefs blitzed more than most teams in the preseason, taking advantage of St. Louis’ patchwork offensive line and sacking Bulger three times.

    The protection must pick up blitzes better against Washington to ensure that Bulger stays healthy and the offense gets going. St. Louis has scored 17 points in its first two preseason games. Bulger said he can’t worry about anything but his own performance. “I think it’s pretty obvious we need to put the ball in the endzone,” Bulger said. “They are doing a fine job. I have got to shore up some of my own business. It’s not for me to worry about everyone else. The bottom line is we are not getting it done. “We could make a million excuses, but the bottom line is if we had 10 plays we should be able to score.”

    NEW BEGINNINGS: Cornerbacks Kevin Garrett and DeJuan Groce began their first day of practice as Fisher’s potential replacements. Martz said Fisher had surgery Wednesday and there was no nerve damage. Groce has missed time because he sprained his left knee on Aug. 18, and he resumed running Wednesday.

    Replacing an injured player is not new to Groce, who was in a similar situation in 2003. Fisher strained his groin against Green Bay on Oct. 19 and Groce came in to replace him. The next week against Pittsburgh, Groce made his first career start in Fisher’s stead.

    -08-26-2004, 11:12 AM
  • RamDez
    Rams Head Home
    by RamDez
    Rams Head Home
    Friday, August 20, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    With the quickness of a Marshall Faulk cutback, coach Mike Martz ended the Rams’ 2004 training camp about 5:15 Thursday evening. Martz cited a major storm brewing in the Macomb area as the reason for the abrupt end.
    “I told them to get out of here tonight,” Martz said. “I don’t want them driving home in the rain in the morning. We wouldn’t get anything out of a morning practice here, anyway.”

    The players and coaching staff will leave for St. Louis on Thursday night and probably have a practice Friday afternoon at Rams Park. The end of camp signals the next step in the drive toward the regular season. St. Louis will play cross-state rival Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night.

    The regular season kicks off Sept. 12 against Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome. Martz said he is more than satisfied with the work the team put in at camp. “We had a heck of a camp up here,” Martz said. “The injury list is minimal compared to what it’s been in past years. I’m pleased with where we are.”

    WOHLABAUGH GONE: It was a disappointing ending for center Dave Wohlabaugh, who spent 2003 starting in the middle of the Rams’ offensive line.

    St. Louis cut ties with its injured center Wednesday night. Wohlabaugh had surgery on his hip in March and was not expected back for at least three or four months.

    Wohlabaugh had not practiced with the team during this training camp and was likely going to miss the entire season. He recently traveled to Ohio to have the hip check out again, but the results were not positive that Wohlabaugh would play again this year or any other.

    With his tenure in St. Louis ending, so too, might his career. Wohlabaugh signed with the Rams on Feb. 28, 2003. Wohlabaugh was entering his 10th season in the league. Andy McCollum, who started at left guard for the Rams last season, moved back to center at the beginning of camp.

    McCollum said he feels comfortable playing his original position again, but he is sorry to see his friend and linemate struggle with injuries. “It’s just unfortunate, the injury that Dave had,” McCollum said. “He’s only been here a year, but I consider him a friend of mine.”

    TIGHT COMPETITION: Brandon Manumaleuna seems to be the only tight end that has wrapped up his position, though a return from hamstring problems by Cameron Cleeland could bring the competition into focus. Manumaleuna looks like he is in better shape, showing better burst off the ball and making some difficult catches in traffic.

    Martz said Manumaleuna’s offseason efforts are paying off handsomely. “Brandon has come a long way,” Martz said. “First of all, he has lost a lot of weight. He’s done a terrific job, in terms of being a receiver and a significant blocker. The thing about him is that he has been consistently excellent,...
    -08-20-2004, 11:19 PM
  • RamWraith
    Inside Slant
    by RamWraith
    When training camp opened, the biggest question facing the Rams was how they would get through training camp with an unsettled situation on the offensive line, given the unknown status of tackles Kyle Turley and Orlando Pace and center Dave Wohlabaugh.

    Turley was recovering from offseason back surgery, while Wohlabaugh had surgery on his hip in the offseason. The Rams knew Pace would likely not be in camp as the team's unsigned franchise player, so how the line would be deployed because of the Turley and Wohlabaugh injuries was an issue.

    It turned out to be even bigger than expected when Wohlabaugh never made it onto the field and was released and Turley aggravated his back during the first few days of camp. Turley was placed on injured reserve in the cutdown to 65 players.

    Those factors resulted in frequent shuffling on the line in camp. Andy King began as the left guard, but lost that job after the first exhibition game and was replaced by Chris Dishman. Dishman had decided to retire before coach Mike Martz convinced him to sign, and he reported at 375 pounds.

    Grant Williams, who would be the right tackle as Turley's replacement, was forced to play on the left side throughout most of camp because of Pace's absence. Scott Tercero got a lot of work at tackle, even though most in the organization believe his best position is guard. Greg Randall, who was with the Texans last season, was signed when it became apparent Turley wouldn't be available.

    Guard Tom Nutten, who played for the Rams during their Super Bowl seasons, but left for the Jets last year and then retired, was brought back a few days before the third exhibition game against Washington and injured his toe on his second play.

    That's the type of summer it's been for a team that has deep offensive talent, but knows it could go for naught if the line doesn't come together.

    Complicating things even more was Pace's decision to stay away for the entire preseason. Last year, as the franchise player, he reported and signed 12 days before the season opener and was able to play in the exhibition finale.

    Not this time. Pace remained unsigned when the Rams played the Raiders Sept. 2, and for the first time, Martz voiced frustration with the situation.

    Asked about Pace not being with the team, Martz said, "To be honest with you I don't think about it. This is our football team right now, I would just assume he's not coming in. That's his decision, and we're moving on.

    "You can't let one player, no matter how good he is, or how good of a person he is, hold a team hostage waiting for him to come in. We have to move on, and get ready for Sept. 12th."

    For line coach John Matsko, he has to get this group ready.

    "Each year's different," Matsko said. "The challenge this year was to bring a bunch of guys...
    -09-02-2004, 11:34 AM