Indestructible Nutten is back on line

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The offensive lineman thought his career was over after each of the last two seasons.

ST. LOUIS -- The offensive lineman who earned the nickname Lazarus from St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz is back from the ashes yet again.

Everybody expected guard Tom Nutten to retire after he limped through a playoff loss to the Falcons with a toe that required reconstructive surgery. Nutten included.

Instead, he un-retired for the second straight season.

"It's a big question I keep asking myself," Nutten said. "The next question is 'Why not?' I sat and pondered a long time, and I had the whole offseason to think about it."

Last year, Nutten came back in mid-August to help the Rams through a crisis at left guard. He ended up starting eight of the last nine games at the position after injuries felled Chris Dishman. Dishman had also been summoned from retirement after center Dave Wohlabaugh was cut due to a hip injury and guard Andy McCollum moved to center.

This year, Nutten, who started for the Rams' Super Bowl teams in 1999 and 2001, has been in training camp from the start after recovering from surgery on the toe in February. He kept in contact with the coaching staff as his rehab progressed, and the toe passed muster during a workout last week that led to a one-year contract.

"As I started working out and getting in shape just in case I was coming back I was like, you know what, this is OK," Nutten said. "It really came down to whether the toe was going to be able to hold up or not. I was prepared to stay and here I am."

The way the season ended, Nutten and the Rams had serious doubts about the toe. The injury was described as turf toe, but that sounds benign compared to their more graphic descriptions.

"It was dislocated and the whole joint was torn to pieces," Nutten said. "But I kept playing on it."

"Tommy's toe, the best way of explaining it, it was just hanging there," Martz said. "It was a complete reconstruction. We've got to watch how we use him, but he's been great."

Martz said Nutten can be used as a backup at tackle, center and both guard positions. Nutten also wears a brace on his left knee from a torn ligament sustained last season. To him, all of the broken parts are just part of the job.

And part of why Martz calls him Lazarus.

"You know what, I leave it up to other people what they want to call me," Nutten said. "I know my name, and usually answer to all of the funny nicknames."

Notes: Martz canceled the afternoon practice on day six of camp on Tuesday and gave players most of the rest of the day off. "It's hard to do, you just want to keep coaching them," Martz said. "But you also know it's the right thing to do." ... WR Torry Holt missed his second straight day of practice with tightness in his back and CB Jerametrius Butler has been out since Saturday with a bone bruise in his knee. Martz said Butler is ready, but is holding him out as a precaution and to give him a chance to look at young players. "We don't have any significant injuries at this point, knock on wood," Martz said. ... Martz backed off somewhat on comments earlier in camp that Rex Tucker, slated to start at left guard, might not make the team. On Tuesday he said Tucker, who's with the second team behind rookie fourth-round pick Claude Terrell, needed time to assimilate a new system. Tucker signed a free-agent deal after being released by the Bears. "It's going to take him probably a good month to get his feet on the ground," Martz said. "It takes a long time to strip it away and get them confident in the calls we're making. He'll be all right."

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