Bulger may be starter Sunday against Arizona

Thursday, December 16, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Marc Bulger tested his shoulder for the second time this week on Wednesday, giving the St. Louis Rams some hope he might be able to return to the lineup.

Bulger missed Sunday's loss to the Panthers and his backup, Chris Chandler, had a nightmare game with a career-worst six interceptions. There's urgency for his return with the Rams (6-7) one game back in the NFC West entering this week's game at Arizona.

On Wednesday Bulger threw about a dozen passes in an individual drill after also throwing several warmups. He threw at about three-quarter speed and a bit sidearm, but it was enough for Martz to exclaim, citing Bulger's jersey number, "10's back!" after the first pass.

Bulger didn't participate in any team drills but the plan is to gradually increase the work load and then make a decision on his availability perhaps on Friday.

"I don't know what to tell you because he actually threw the ball much better today than I would have predicted," Martz said after practice. "He feels like he can zip it, but we just asked him to refrain from that."

Martz said Bulger, who wasn't made available for comment, had a little trouble on the follow through.

"I'd like to have him throw a little bit more each day just to see if he can," Martz said.

Martz wasn't as optimistic on Monday, when he said Chandler, 39, would get another start. The Rams had been aiming at Bulger returning next week from an injury he's sustained twice this season.

Bulger missed no games the first time around after being hurt in Miami on Oct. 24, returning after a bye the following weekend. Martz said Bulger's arm didn't return to normal until a week before he was injured.

If Bulger can't go, Chandler will try to shake off his nightmarish day. In 17 seasons, Chandler had never thrown more than four interceptions in a game.

Martz attempted to divert some criticism, saying he could have done a better job of preparing Chandler and saying perhaps Chandler -- making his first start of the season -- might have reverted to running an offense from one of his previous six NFL teams. Chandler would have none of that.

"It has nothing to do with Mike; it was just my bad day," Chandler said. "He was just trying to be a nice guy. It was just a bad thing on my part."

Chandler said it was tough moving on from the game, which wasted a good effort from the Rams' improving defense. St. Louis shut out Carolina in the second half.

"I've never had one like that," Chandler said. "So, I'm still trying to sort it out. I'm just going to try as usual from my end to be ready, and get back to good things."

A much-improved backfield situation should help whoever's at quarterback. Martz said Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson, who both missed last week's game with bruised knees, will be ready on Sunday.

Faulk missed the last two games but Martz said he'd start against the Cardinals if he looked as good as he did on Wednesday the rest of the week.

"Steven's ready and Marshall looked great out there," Martz said. "He looked like his old self, he had that burst back. If he feels this good, we'll start him and roll."

Arlen Harris ran for 61 yards on 19 carries last week, and likely also will be active on Sunday just in case. Harris also would return to kick returning duties after yielding to Aveion Cason last week.

The offensive line situation is a bit iffy, however, with both guards held out of practice on Wednesday. Adam Timmerman (shoulder) will require offseason surgery although he figures to finish the season, and Tom Nutten (sprained knee, turf toe) has been badly hobbled.

Martz has been critical of the offensive line all week, including five-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace.

"He's not playing bad, but he can play better," Martz said. "He can be a dominant player and at times he is."

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