Bulger loses his shadow as Rams open minicamp

Saturday, May 22, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Though Marc Bulger is 18-3 as the St. Louis Rams' starting quarterback over the past two seasons, Friday was the first time he took the field as the unquestioned No. 1.

Not that he appeared to notice that the shadow of Kurt Warner was missing as the team began a three-day minicamp. As Bulger also noted, it's May.

"It wasn't like I walked out on the field and the clouds parted and I came walking out," Bulger said. "It really wasn't different.

"It felt just like every other hot, humid day in St. Louis walking out there."

But it wasn't. This was the first Rams practice without Warner, the two-time NFL MVP, since 1997.

Warner led the team to two Super Bowls in a three-year span from 1999-2001 before getting derailed by injuries, losing his starting job for good after the season opener last year. He is an excused absence from the minicamp as he and his agent search for a job elsewhere, and the Rams plan to release him after June 1.

"You try not to think about it," coach Mike Martz said. "You miss him, no question about it. You miss his presence. But again it's a new time for us. This is basically Marc's team and that's what we focus on."

Teammates were having no trouble adjusting to the final changeover. After all, Bulger has been working with the first unit most of the past two years, and each season brings a lot of change.

"It's a little different, but after being in this league for 10 years you get kind of used to guys come and go," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "We'll get used to it."

Bulger, who signed a four-year, $19.1 million contract earlier this month, is looking forward to the day when the quarterback controversy finally dies. He knew Friday wasn't going to be that day.

Controversy that won't end"It's not going to ever end," Bulger said. "I'm sure it's going to be brought up every week, and the first week of the season, so nothing's changed.

"Can I answer for September, too? And October and November?"

That said, Bulger will at least miss Warner's help. Until Friday, the two have worked out side by side at Rams Park throughout the offseason and Bulger has often been complimentary of Warner's grace as the backup.

"Everything's fine, no fights to report on," Bulger joked. "It's one less coach out there that I'll have.

"It's nice that you are the quarterback, but at the same time I'm not going to be learning the things he was teaching me."

The Rams are hoping 18-year veteran Chris Chandler can help fill that void. Chandler signed a three-year free agent deal in the offseason to be the backup.

"He picks things up a lot quicker than I do," Bulger said. "I'm relatively young in this league and he sees defenses and much like Kurt just recognizes them without having to process it.

"He'll definitely be a benefit to me."

After the first of five weekend workouts on Friday, Martz credited Chandler for being a quick learner.

"The nice thing about a veteran quarterback is this stuff doesn't happen too fast for him," Martz said. "Now it's just the timing of what we do that he has to trust.

"Instead of seeing guys get open we're telling him he's going to be open, don't worry about it, and just throw it in there."

The other prominent name missing from camp is defensive end Leonard Little, charged with felony drunken-driving after a traffic stop in St. Louis County last month. Martz said Little, who made his first Pro Bowl last year, was excused from the camp.

In 1998, Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a drunken-driving crash that killed a woman.

"Leonard sets the pace for the defensive line," backup defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "He's been as good a defensive lineman as there is for the last couple years and all of us have been trying to catch him.

"With him not here all the rest of us have to try to set that bar for ourselves."

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