ST. LOUIS — There’s no slowing down for the last of the Los Angeles Rams.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce, a second-round pick in 1994 before the team’s final season on the West Coast, heads into his 14th season coming off a very productive year. Bruce caught 78 passes for 1,098 yards, moving into seventh place on the career receiving list and eighth on the career receptions list.
Retirement hasn’t entered the discussion for Bruce, who has two years to go on a three-year, $15 million contract. His reaction to quarterback Marc Bulger’s six-year, $65 million contract signed on the first day of training camp: “It means that he got a contract that is definitely well-deserved, and I’m next.”
The four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver may have been joking a bit, while also sending a message. The 34-year-old Bruce and Torry Holt, 31, remain one of the top receiving duos in the NFL.
“He gets better with age,” coach Scott Linehan said. “It’s amazing. I think it’s proof that if you take care of yourself and your body the way he does and the way he eats, with all the good habits he has, is a testament to why he has been able to play so long.”
Bruce started all 16 games last season, rebounding from an injury-plagued 2005 that held his numbers down to 36 catches. That led the Rams to release him for a few days for salary cap reasons in March 2006 before signing him to a new deal.
Bruce’s main concession to advancing age as a professional athlete is cutting sugar out of his diet. He also makes sure he gets his rest.
“I’m not 21 anymore and some of the wear and tear is an opportunity or chance for wear and tear on your body, and I don’t want to help that cause,” Bruce said. “I want to slow it down as much as possible.
“I make sure I get a ton of fruit and a ton of vegetables and don’t burn the candles on both ends and stay away from sugar.”
Linehan said he’d try to conserve veterans throughout training camp, limiting their participation. But so far, Bruce said he hadn’t had any breathers.
“I practice every practice we’ve got,” he said. “If he’s going to give me a break he hasn’t given it to me yet. But if he is, I’ll take it.”
Familiarity in the second year of Linehan’s system has eased the mental workload, at least. So far, Bruce said he hasn’t seen many new wrinkles.
He’s optimistic the Rams can improve on last year’s 8-8 record. St. Louis has upgraded its offense, adding pass-catching tight end Randy McMichael and big body wide receiver Drew Bennett to the mix. The Rams also can spot return man Dante Hall as an extra receiver.
“I’ve got my hopes up real high,” Bruce said. “Those guys can come right in, they’re experienced guys, have been in the heat of battle, and they will make it better for our defense by putting points on the board.”
Bruce hedged just a bit when asked whether the present cast can match the Rams’ glory years from 1999-2001, when the franchise went to two Super Bowls and won it all after the ’99 season behind a high-powered offense that scored 500 points each year.
“I don’t live in the past,” Bruce said. “We’re living in the future, but I believe so.”