Tough Lovie Martz defends Smith's approach

Friday, August 6, 2004

By R.B. Fallstrom ~ The Associated Press

MACOMB, Ill. -- Lovie Smith, who's been criticized for overworking the Chicago Bears into a rash of injuries, is in safe territory now.

St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz is a staunch defender of Smith, who brought his team to Western Illinois University for three days of joint practices. Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator for three seasons, helping them go to the Super Bowl in 2001.

Martz said the criticism was "the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

"I guess all these people that write that must be medical doctors," Martz said. "This is just a bad run. I mean, we've had it here."

The Bears have been plagued by hamstring injuries early in camp, the worst sustained by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who'll be out four to six weeks. Martz pointed out that the Rams have a handful of hamstring injuries themselves, saying that's one of the rites of the first weeks of training camp.

"That angers me, to be honest with you," Martz said. "That's just people that have no clue, pretty much, what's going on. That's ridiculous."

Smith said his practice regimen with the Bears is "not much different at all" from the way the Rams do things. He won't change.

"You say criticism, I guess there has been," Smith said. "Our practices, though, they're going to continue the same.

"We're going to continue to practice hard like that."

The Bears rolled up to Thompson Hall, a high-rise dormitory that serves as the Rams' training camp headquarters, in six buses Thursday morning. The teams held their first joint practice session Thursday afternoon.

Two more workouts are set for today, with a controlled scrimmage on Saturday. The joint practices serve as a change of pace for both teams, who'll also meet in their preseason opener Aug. 12 in St. Louis.

"You kind of get sick of beating up on each other," Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It'll be good, spirited and clean, but it'll be just nice to get into more of a competition."

So far, Smith was enjoying his homecoming of sorts. He definitely was familiar with the surroundings, mentioning he knew how to get around the dorm and find the cafeteria.

Like Martz, Smith agreed to the joint practice because of his strong relationship with the other coach. Not that he expected the proceedings to be overly polite.

"When we practice the intensity level is up and none of that should change," Smith said. "We just don't feel you have to slam the quarterback to the ground and slam the running backs to the ground every play."Noteworthy

  • Jerry Azumah, the Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl kick returner, will undergo neck surgery for a disc problem and will be sidelined three to four months, the team said Thursday. Azumah, a starting defensive back, led the NFL in kickoff return average last season and ran two back for touchdowns.

    NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue visited training camp and attended practice. "We're really just here to visit with the coaches," Tagliabue said.

    Rams OT Kyle Turley was in Birmingham, Ala., visiting Dr. James Andrews for a third opinion about his ailing back on Thursday. He previously met with the surgeon in St. Louis that did the operation plus specialist Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles. "I would encourage him to see a fourth one, or whatever it takes," coach Mike Martz said. "If the verdict is it looks like he can play with this I just want him to feel good with whatever it is."

    The Rams signed OG-C Chris Dishman and released P Jesse Nicassio, leaving 42-year-old Sean Landeta as the only punter in camp.

    Rams backup QB Chris Chandler, who was released by the Bears in March, said it was nothing special facing off against his old team. Chandler said joining the Rams was a "blessing in disguise." "It's great here," he said. "I respect Coach Martz immensely and have for quite a while."

    Rams RB Lamar Gordon sat out the joint practice Thursday with a sore ankle and the team has planned an MRI exam.

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