ST. LOUIS — Orlando Pace really cut it close this year.
The five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle will get 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 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, Pace, 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,” 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.
“It’s never remembered,” Martz said. “That’s his deal and I don’t have anything to do with that. 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.
Teammates were excited to have him back.
“When you’ve got the best offensive lineman in the league you want to see him in uniform,” defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. “No question about it, he instantly makes us a better offense and makes us a better team.
“We’re going to get him ready and knowing Big O, it won’t take him much to get ready.”
The presence of Pace solidifies what has been a shaky line situation. The other starting tackle from last year, Kyle Turley, is on injured reserve with a back injury. Grant Williams, a former starter in New England, played at Pace’s left tackle spot in the preseason and he will move to right tackle.
Andy McCollum moved from guard to center in camp after a hip injury to center Dave Wohlabaugh, who was released. Training camp pickup Chris Dishman and holdover Adam Timmerman are the starting guards.
Now, the Rams plug in a rusty Pace.
“We probably can’t get enough reps in this year,” Williams said. “I don’t know if an offensive lineman has ever said that, but it’ll be good for us to get out there and get used to him a little bit.”