Monday, May 26, 2008

Game is on in battle for center's job

By Bill Coats

Nothing has come easy in the NFL for the Rams' Brett Romberg, a highly decorated center at the University of Miami. And now he has another fight on his hands."There's always something," said Romberg, who wasn't drafted, began his career on Jacksonville's practice squad and didn't start a game until his fourth year in the league. "There's always somebody ready to come in and test your will."This time, it's third-year pro Mark Setterstrom, a former guard who is challenging Romberg for the first-team job at center. The position has been in flux since Andy McCollum suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2006 opener after 97 consecutive starts.

Richie Incognito, now the first-team right guard, filled in for 12 games and Romberg for three that season. Last year, Romberg made nine starts and McCollum seven.Romberg, 28, and McCollum, 37, were unrestricted free agents after the season. Romberg signed a one-year deal in March; McCollum hasn't landed a new job.Setterstrom, 24, started the last six games of his rookie season at left guard and held on to that spot heading into last year. But his season ended in Week 3 when he tore a ligament and damaged cartilage in his left knee.

After the Rams signed free agent Jacob Bell, who started 46 games at guard in four seasons with Tennessee, the decision was made to try Setterstrom at center.Setterstrom has the edge in size: He's 6 feet 4 and 314; Romberg goes 6-2 and 298. But Romberg, a three-year starter for the Hurricanes and the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center in 2002, has a vast experience advantage."I've never played (center) before, so I'm going to have to work really hard at it," said Setterstrom, a seventh-round draft pick from Minnesota. "But at the same time, it's something new, it's something exciting."

After a somewhat ragged start at minicamp, Setterstrom is beginning to settle in."He's taken that role and the challenge of that position to heart, and he wants to be great at it," coach Scott Linehan said. "I think our competition at that position's going to be pretty good."Romberg, who has been working with the first unit this spring, missed seven games and most of an eighth last year with injuries to both ankles. He acknowledged that at one point he didn't think the Rams would re-sign him."But the opportunity arose," he said. "I really wanted to come back; I felt I had a lot of unfinished business here. And I love my teammates here."Some might not be so fond of him, though. "I keep getting blamed for the sand pit thing," Romberg said.

He urged the team to install a pit at Rams Park for certain drills and individual work that also increases ankle strength and flexibility. The 50-yard-long, 8-yard-wide bunker is being used liberally."It was just something that we used a lot at Miami, and I never saw high ankle sprains. I just thought it might help," he explained. "We're in it just about every day, pulling sleds, doing agility drills. It's nothing that people look forward to going into, but the work will pay off."

Neither center reported any lingering problems from his '07 injury during minicamp and organized team activities.

Training camp July 25-Aug. 14 in Mequon, Wis., will be far more demanding. And that's where one should emerge as the starter."You've always got to create some kind of competition or it would be kind of lackadaisical, and a lot of things would be taken for granted," Romberg said. "Competition is always encouraged."Added Setterstrom: "I just want to get on the field, so I'm looking forward to the challenge."


Running back Steven Jackson sat out Thursday's practice after turning an ankle Wednesday. "It did swell up a little bit, but it's not serious," Linehan said. ... Tackle Orlando Pace was excused so that he could attend an event in Ohio honoring his foundation. ... OTAs will resume June 3 and wrap up June 12. Then the team will break until training camp.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Holt adjusts to life without Bruce

By Jeff Gordon
Sunday, May. 11 2008

Physically, Torry Holt feels pretty good these days. His knees feel fresher than they did a year ago at this time.Emotionally, Holt seems a bit wounded. As P-D football writer Jim Thomas reports, Holt wasn’t thrilled about Isaac Bruce’s unceremonious departure via free agency.

Bruce is an iconic figure in the history of this franchise, dating back to Los Angeles. Was there nothing more the franchise could do for him? Why didn’t the Rams take care of Bruce like they took care of Marshall Faulk, who kept collecting checks long after he was done?

While chatting with reporters Saturday at Rams Park, Holt made it clear how much he missed his friend and mentor.“It is really different,” he told the group. “You could always count on Isaac to come in and be ready to roll and be ready for the season. Not to see his locker and not to see him out there on the football field and not to see him in the stretching and the drills . . . he is always the one in the front of the line and getting things going, so it is definitely different and is going to take some getting used to.”

This explains why he didn’t back off earlier comments about the possibility of finishing his career back home in Carolina. In fact, he reiterated them to reporters Saturday.“The real story is that I have this year and next year and hopefully I can finish those years out,” Holt said. “Then I will see where I am at. I will see where I am at physically and emotionally and financially. Then, if they would like to do something here I will consider it. If not, then I will have the option to go and explore and give my services somewhere else. “If that happens, Carolina will definitely be my first choice. There is no question about it. I have 2008 and 2009 left to play and that is what I plan on doing.”

That was a warning shot from one of the cornerstone players on this team. Holt fired it with purpose.Could anybody blame him for remaining skeptical of the current regime? Last season’s 3-13 fiasco took a toll on him. His frustration boiled over on the Rams sidelines.He was in no mood to hang around Rams Park more than necessary during this offseason. “From a mental standpoint, I just wanted to relax and get away from the building and get away from football for a while so I can come back with a fresh mind and give the guys and my teammates what it is they need to go out there and try to win some more games this year and try to get our first playoff berth in a while,” Holt said.

As for the ’08 season. Holt still seems in wait-and-see mode. When reporters asked him about second-round pick Donnie Avery, Torry managed to contain his enthusiasm.“He has to just keep going,” Holt said. “I don’t really have any impression of him right now. Obviously he has some quick-twitch fibers, which is really good. He wants to be good. Hopefully during training camp he will show me something.”Al Saunders’ return ought to perk up Holt up IF the new coordinator has the freedom to use his full scheme. Saunders worked closely with Holt here during the “Greatest Show on Turf” era.“It is good to have Al,” Holt said. “He came in with instant energy. He has put an emphasis on resetting the standard of the way we play offense here, which is really good.

What is really good to see is that a lot of the guys are buying into what he is trying to get accomplished, which is good for us.”Saunders has a big job to do. He must rebuild the confidence and enthusiasm of quarterback Marc Bulger, who took a terrible beating last season.He must oversee the reconstruction of the offensive line, with so many players coming back from injuries.

He must get some mileage out of receiver Drew Bennett, who was utterly ineffective last season -– largely due to injuries. He must groom rookie receivers Avery and Keenan Burton, two kids capable of re-energizing the offense. And Saunders has to get Holt going full-tilt again, physically and emotionally. “We are starting in the right direction,” Holt said. “Obviously, we have a long way to go, but guys are really taking heed to what (Saunders) is saying and doing out there and actually trying to get done what he wants them to get done as an offensive unit.”

Stay tuned . . .