Rams Bank on Steussie, Prepare for Seahawks

When a team puts all its hope for offensive line consistency on a 36-year-old guard/tackle, it says one of two things: Either the team is bereft of any hope at the position, or the player in question is pretty special.

The St. Louis Rams know that the former is true, but they hope that the latter description will fit Todd Steussie, a 14-year NFL veteran whose kids go to the same schools as those of Rams head coach Scott Linehan. The Rams released Steussie with an injury settlement in September after he suffered a foot injury in the preseason, but this is a team always looking for bodies to plug in -- last season, St. Louis put seven different line combinations in the field, and only one of the opening day starters this season are able to practice, much less play.

Last season, it seemed to work - running back Steven Jackson gained the fifth-most yards from scrimmage in NFL history and the line finished sixth in Adjusted Line Yards. This year, it's not going quite so well - Jackson has missed several games due to injury and only the Lions have given up more sacks than St. Louis' 35. In the Rams' last game against Seattle, a 33-6 whitewashing, Seahawks end Darryl Tapp got four total sacks - two on left tackle Alex Barron and two on right tackle Milford Brown.

For Linehan, Steussie's re-arrival is about many things - intelligence, veteran presence and depth. "When you have your kids going to school with the players' kids, you understand that the players are a little closer in age.," the coach said. "I like the mix of veterans on the team. I think they're great examples for the players. This goes to show you how dedicated he is to playing this game. It could have been very easy for him to have gone on injured reserve this year.

"It didn't do anything to him on the business side, if you were just looking at it for doing it for a living. He loves to play. He was committed to doing whatever he could to get back on this team, whenever it was ok for him to do so. That says a lot about his dedication to this football team and wanting to get back and helping us whenever he could."

It's been patchwork all the way - Nick Leckey and Rob Petitti, not Orlando Pace and Richie Incognito. They had Petitti in a game not a week after he came in, and that's where a multi-positional veteran like Steussie makes a difference. "Todd's a little bit (of a) different situation," Linehan said. "He can play at any position other than center because he has a lot of experience. We'll just make sure he's in as good of shape as he can. It's not really a concern with him. He does have to be able to play with his pads on and he's done that in awhile. He'll be ready to go. He's a veteran.

"We never worried about whether he was going to be conditioned to be ready. It was just a matter of timing and working with guys that are in there now. We had to introduce him to our team this morning in the offensive meeting because they're all new guys since he was here. He stepped back right where he was. That's been his role to step in different positions. We worked him in a couple of spots at guard and tackle."

It means a lot to Marc Bulger, who's been running for his life when he's been able to play around his own injuries. "It's good," the Rams' quarterback said. "He is a big body, has veteran leadership and has been around. I think anyone else coming back from 10 weeks off would be a little bit iffy but he's been playing long enough that I think he may be a little rusty but he can step in and mentally be there. Like I said, he is a big body which I think we need."

Steven Jackson also saw the benefits of having the 6'6", 310-pound lineman on the team. It's been difficult to have line continuity and get all the calls together. "He knows all the calls that are made up front," Jackson said. "The only thing you hope is that he is able to get in game shape and withstand a 60-minute battle but as far as the mental part of the game, he is ready."

Steussie and his team are in for a major challenge this Sunday as they re-engage with the Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome. The Seahawks have amassed almost as many sacks -- 31 -- as the Rams have allowed, though that may turn over after this game if that Rams' line can't get control of Tapp, fellow end Patrick Kerney, and linebacker Julian Peterson.

"I know it's tough on these guys with all the attention that's gone on," Steussie said about the fact that his linemates haven't been able to pass-protect. "It's a difficult situation when you have as many guys injured as we do. The whole team has had it's share of injuries. This is my 14th year and I've never seen even 50 percent of the (number of) injuries we've had on this line. I've introduced myself to about four new guys today because I've never met them before today. Usually you have to go into the second line once in a while, but to go into the third line and have to pull new guys in has been pretty amazing."

Linehan knows what a challenge Seattle's front seven will bring. "They play very hard, with a lot of energy. They're very effective at getting teams in third-and-long and then using that to their advantage. They're very effective at third-and-long. We have to do what we've been able to do the last two weeks – stay on the field offensively. For the most part, until the second half of the game last week, we've been in very good third down situations which helps protect people who are rushing the passer. Being able to have a very effective running game helps. I don't think it helps totally alleviate the problem, but it definitely will help us.

Linehan singled out defensive tackle Rocky Bernard for special attention. "He is one of those guys that are a lot like (La'Roi) Glover in that he is always playing hard. You can't have a play where you think you have worn him down so he might take a couple plays off and give you a break. He never gives you a break. He is excellent getting off the line of scrimmage and just plays extremely hard. He comes off, they help him off the field, and then he is back in making plays. He is one of those guys that just keep on coming. You can't deny the fact that he is always giving us fits. It's those kinds of guys that generally are very effective players in this league."

"They are obviously good players but they have a high motor," Bulger added. "They don't take any plays off. Obviously we are going to have Steve (Jackson) back this week, which will help. They didn't have to come up and defend the run too much last time. They definitely don't take plays off. The minute you relax a little bit they are in there and you can't allow that."

The Rams' game of musical chairs with their offensive line will continue, but the hope is that they'll find a way to get it together. What the team does have is a two-game winning streak to build on, even coming as it does after an eight-game losing jag.

"I think there is more energy," Bulger concluded. "You can hear the guys, there is a little bit more of a buzz. I think we have gotten more confidence. We feel like we can win every week….We aren't expecting to make mistakes, I think we are looking to make plays right now and looking to win games. I think just the energy, guys actually wanting to come to work now and it is more pleasant when you win."

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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