Healthy Bulger will try to heal ailing offense

Friday, December 24, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Marc Bulger said Thursday he's ready to return from a bruised shoulder -- good news for a suddenly feeble St. Louis Rams' offense that totaled one touchdown during the two games he missed.

"When you've got your best players on the field, you feel a lot better, no question about it," defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson said. "He's a Pro Bowl quarterback in my opinion."

In Bulger's absence, Chris Chandler played his way out of the backup job with six interceptions two weeks ago and another quarter of confused unproductivity before getting benched in last week's 31-7 loss to the Cardinals. Jamie Martin played better the last three quarters at Arizona only two weeks after being signed, but he didn't produce any points.

"It's a difficult system if you haven't been in it," Bulger said. "It takes years, not weeks, to learn this."

Bulger threw some on Monday, and knew at that point he'd be ready. He resumed practicing on Thursday.

"I'm 100 percent," Bulger said somewhat unconvincingly. "It doesn't matter. If I play bad it doesn't matter, and if I play good it doesn't matter."

Coach Mike Martz said playing would be a matter of pain tolerance.

"There's nothing structurally that's going to further damage him from a joint or bone standpoint," Martz said. "To the point where he can put up with it, he'll stay in the game I'm sure."

Bulger had a cortisone shot last week and also threw some early in the week in an attempt to return for the Cardinals game.

"He thought he might go backward like he did last week after throwing, but that's not the case at all," Martz said. "He feels strong and obviously he's excited about being back in the lineup.

"Of course, we're very pleased to have him back: a big plus."

Martin will be the backup again this week, leaving the status of the 39-year-old Chandler unclear. Martz said he'd keep all four quarterbacks, counting rookie Jeff Smoker, on the roster for the rest of the regular season, but Chandler likely will be inactive on Monday.

Earlier in the week Martz said that Chandler had shown disturbing signs in practice last week that he hadn't recovered from his six-interception game.

"I just felt like I knew him well enough that he would just recover, " Martz said. "I just kept thinking it would be all right, and then very quickly realized it was not all right."

Martz gave the team two days off, including Wednesday, to help players recuperate from nagging injuries. He canceled the Wednesday practice on Tuesday night.

The Rams (6-8) remain alive in the playoff race heading into Monday's game against the Eagles (13-1) despite having lost six of eight.

"I just really felt like one more day would really help this team in terms of recovering from some of the shoulders and knees and ankles -- all of the things that have kind of accumulated just in the last three or four weeks," Martz said.

Martz said left guard Tom Nutten, who missed last week's game with knee and toe injuries, would return to the lineup against the Eagles. Nutten is one of four players who have started at that injury-plagued position this season.

Rookie Larry Turner, a seventh-round pick, started there last week.

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