Bulger in charge but unchanged

Thursday, July 29, 2004

MACOMB, Ill. -- On the first day of training camp, Kurt Warner was out of sight and out of mind for the St. Louis Rams.

"To be honest, I wasn't even thinking about No. 13," wide receiver Torry Holt said after the first of two-a-day workouts Wednesday. "He wasn't even in my thoughts."

Nor those of Marc Bulger, the uncontested No. 1. It was just time to move on.

"Our practice goes so quick and you're so worried about your own job, you don't have to sit there and ask where Kurt is right now," Bulger said. "Maybe the first game or something."

Bulger is 18-4 in the regular season as the starter. He stepped in after Warner sustained a concussion in the season opener last year, and never looked back.

Now, for the first time, this is truly his team.

"It's sad to see Kurt go with everything we've been through and the things he's done for this team, but a fresh start might do good for everybody," offensive guard Andy McCollum said.

"We're here to protect Marc. He's the man now."

Bulger was anointed the starter by coach Mike Martz in April, then he signed a four-year, $19 million contract in May to seal the deal. In June, Warner signed a free-agent deal with the New York Giants where the two-time NFL MVP will try to resurrect his career.

The new backup, 38-year-old Chris Chandler, is no threat to the No. 1 job.

"That saga is over, and he can just concentrate on being the quarterback for the St. Louis Rams from the beginning to the end," Holt said.

"It's up to us as a team to help him, and we will."

Long ago, Bulger won over his teammates with his quiet, unassuming production. Last year he threw for an NFC-leading 3,845 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes, leading the team to a 12-4 record and NFC West championship. To top it off, he was the Pro Bowl MVP.

"He's played very well for us," Martz said. "We're all excited about Marc being in this position."

Bulger doesn't feel the need to proclaim that the Rams are his team. And the status won't go to his head. Bulger turned down a chance for radio and TV shows last year, and he'll turn them down again this year.

It's just not him.

"If I have to say no to whatever amount of money because I want three hours off on a Monday, I will," Bulger said "It is challenging sometimes, and you get opportunities, but you have to stick to who you are and will you be happy?

"Doing a show maybe for an hour a week on a Monday, it's not going to make me happy."

Another indication that Bulger hasn't gone Hollywood: He didn't resist being surrounded by media while moving into the Rams' dorm on Tuesday, beginning the interview session while lugging a portable television.

"The way Marc carries himself, when you see him I don't know if you would guess he's a quarterback in the National Football League," safety Aeneas Williams said. "He's so down to earth."

Hitting the field was something of a relief for Bulger, though, after all that's transpired. It was the first tiny step in a long summer of preparation.

"All the hype and the buildup and everything this summer, to finally get here and get it over with, the first one, is nice," Bulger said. "Now you can concentrate on getting better.

"Now we can get into a rhythm."

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