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Rams rookies bode well for offensive line

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  • Rams rookies bode well for offensive line

    Rookies shine on offensive line
    By Bill Coats

    After 12-plus NFL seasons, Rams center Andy McCollum doesn't experience many "firsts" anymore. He did Monday, though, when for the only time in his career he lined up with two rookie starters on the offensive line.

    "That's a credit to both those guys," McCollum said. "They're doing a heck of a job."

    Alex Barron, a first-round draft choice from Florida State, and Claude Terrell, a fourth-round selection out of New Mexico, are manning 40 percent of the interior line spots for the Rams. Barron, 6 feet 7 and 320 pounds, has started the last three games at right tackle. Terrell, 6-2 and 343, replaced veteran Tom Nutten at left guard Monday in Indianapolis.

    "It's very unusual" to start two first-year linemen, said offensive line coach John Matsko, who's been in the league since 1992. "Both guys are going to be as good as they want to be. And I think they both have outstanding determination to be the best."

    Interim head coach Joe Vitt, noting that another rookie, center/guard Richie Incognito, began practicing this past week after recovering from knee surgery, was even more effusive about the young linemen.

    "Man, that's exciting. It's a very, very bright future for our offensive line," he said.

    Coach Mike Martz penciled in Barron as a starter just days after the draft. But when he missed the first 19 days of training camp in a contract dispute, Barron not only fell out of favor, he lagged far behind the other linemen. At one point, Martz said he doubted whether Barron would play at all this season. But after significant progress in practice, first behind perennial Pro Bowler Orlando Pace at left tackle and then on the right side, Barron got the call when Blaine Saipaia struggled against Tennessee on Sept. 25. Barron entered the game late in the third period and has maintained the spot.

    The right tackles were directly responsible for six sacks in the opening 2 3/4 games. Barron has been victimized just twice since then, and one of those sacks also could've been charged to Pace.

    "Things have been going all right, but there are a lot of things to work on and still a lot of things to get better at," said Barron, 23. "The more you get comfortable, the better you can relax and not really think about a whole bunch of stuff."

    He and Terrell, 23, have become close friends. They spend considerable time discussing their assignments and their techniques.

    "He might have something I can help him with, or I might have something he can help me with," said Barron, a native of Orangeburg, S.C.

    Terrell was a unanimous choice for the All-Mountain West Conference team as a tackle his senior year.

    "But really, he got our attention as a junior as a guard," Matsko said. "He's got good power, good force, and he's smart."

    Impressive early in training camp, Terrell soon was working with the first unit. But his play evened out a bit, and he settled into a backup role while working mainly on his pass blocking. After regaining the coaches' trust, Matsko said, Terrell earned the start.

    "That was the best feeling," Terrell said. "Then we jumped out 17-0. I could hear all of my thoughts, it got so quiet in the (RCA) Dome. I could hear everything."

    Although the Colts stormed back to win 45-28, Terrell said: "It was fun, a great environment on Monday night. I just tried to make the most of it."

    He did, according to Vitt.

    "He's got to work on his conditioning; he ran out of gas a little bit at the end. But overall, pretty damn good," Vitt said.

    Nerves weren't a factor Monday, Terrell said. Any problems with pregame anxiety were solved in high school, when he played for Texas prep power LaMarque High, just outside of Houston. The Cougars would routinely draw 15,000 fans or more for their games, Terrell said.

    "The school ... was kind of like a little dynasty" then, he said. "Those people take it seriously. It's like a religion down there. Friday nights in Texas, if you aren't at a football game, you don't know what you're missing."

    Terrell also was a "small" forward on the LaMarque basketball team, which, given his rather . . . uh, rotund . . . physique is somewhat hard to imagine.

    "I played at the top of the circle in high school, and I used to be able to dunk," he said.

    But not anymore.

    "Gravity pulls me down . . . too heavy now," he said.

    Still, the sweet jump shot remains, he insisted.

    "Oh, yeah, I can stroke it all day," he said, grinning broadly.
    Dude. Can. Fly.