Pace returns, and just in time

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Orlando Pace really cut it close this year.

The five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle will get only four days of practice to prepare for the St. Louis Rams' opener after signing a one-year contract for $7.02 million late Sunday night and hitting the field on Monday.

Pace missed most of training camp last year and all of it this season in retaliation for being designated with the franchise tag. The first overall pick of the 1997 draft has been seeking a long-term contract.

"We're all excited to have Orlando back, and I know he feels good about being back, too," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "It's a relief to have him here and we're all just very pleased he's here and we can get going."

Martz said there won't be any hard feelings, either, just like last year. Pace also was a holdout his rookie year, missing most of training camp that season.

"That's his deal, and I don't have anything to do with that,"Martz said. "That's another world that I don't participate in."

Pace had no comment, both before and after his first practice.

Martz said four practices will have to be enough for Pace. He pointed out that Pace reported in shape, actually 16 pounds beneath his 2003 playing weight of 325 pounds, and that the Rams have not changed calls or terminology.

"He's obviously trained very well and prepared himself to come to camp," Martz said. "Watching him in practice he's a little rusty with some things, but he's a pretty unique individual."

Pace had one notable play, stuffing rookie third-round pick Anthony Hargrove on a pass-rush drill. Earlier, Hargrove and Bryce Fisher had success against Pace with inside moves.

"When you've got the best offensive lineman in the league you want to see him in uniform," teammate Tyoka Jackson said.

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