There are coaches who get angry when the weather at training camp isn't sticky and muggy. And then there's Rams Coach Mike Martz.
"If you play in all this heat, you just get run down," he told reporters during preseason training camp. "And the work doesn't come out as well. That's why when it's real hot, we go indoors." Martz also moved the morning practice up an hour and the afternoon practice back an hour so the players would have more time to recover in between. Yet all this careful cosseting still wasn't enough for star tackle Orlando Pace. After missing all of training camp, Pace finally reported to the team on Monday after signing a one-year, $7.02 million deal. He also missed all of training camp last year and in 1997, signing before the regular season opener both times.
"When 'Big O' gets here, we'll love him to death," Martz said earlier this summer. "It's hard for coaches, but it is what it is. We're not going to change it, and why worry about it."
Given the disaster that passes for St. Louis's offensive line, however, maybe the team is happy Pace at least will show up healthy. Starting center Dave Wohlabaugh was cut because of a hip injury, and starting tackle Kyle Turley is out for the year because of a back injury.
All this forced Martz to call linemen Tom Nutten and Chris Dishman out of retirement. The offense is more steady elsewhere. Quarterback Marc Bulger is 18-4 as a starter; wide receiver Torry Holt had 1,696 yards receiving last year; and running back Marshall Faulk had 818 yards rushing.
The Rams should make the playoffs: They play the Cardinals and 49ers twice each, so that's four wins. And Martz's Dracula-like aversion to the outdoors did not get punished by the schedule-makers. The team's last four games are at warm-weather Carolina and Arizona, followed by two home games inside the Edward Jones Dome. But if the playoffs take them to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, good luck.
Best Hands: Henry Ellard was third all-time in receiving yardage when he retired in 1997. He tutored Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt during the 1999 season.
Worst Hands: Flipper Anderson had decent hands, but made some bad decisions. After catching a touchdown pass to beat the Giants in a playoff game in 1989, Anderson ran straight to the locker room and took off his helmet. His teammates came rushing in, still wearing their helmets, and started head-butting him for joy.
Grading This Year's WRs: Holt and Bruce (981 yards receiving) are part of the "Greatest Show on Turf."
WRs Grade: B plus.