Shoulder injury sidelines Rams’ Pace for season

Monday, September 10, 2007 | 11:48 p.m. CDT; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder suffered in the season opener Sunday.

The injury is Pace’s second season-ender in two games, after tearing his left triceps last November. Coach Scott Linehan said this one could be career-threatening.

Team physician Dr. Matt Matava estimated a six-month rehab period while calling it a “correctable injury.”

“I think it’s too soon to say what implications there are for his future,” Linehan said. “I would think it’s all up to the mind-set of Orlando and how he responds to another recovery to a season-ending injury.

“He’s got to go through it again.”

An MRI exam Monday revealed the damage to the seven-time Pro Bowl player who was the first overall pick of the 1997 draft, and Linehan said surgery will be scheduled. The 31-year-old Pace was injured on the first play after the two-minute warning while pass-blocking against the Panthers’ Julius Peppers. The play involved minor jostling that didn’t appear out of the ordinary.

“I feel very bad, obviously, for Orlando,” Linehan said. “He had a real unfortunate injury and we’ll have to pick up the pieces.

“Come Sunday, we’ll have our best five out there.”

After watching a tape of the play, Linehan wasn’t sure what happened. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Pace told him he “just felt it give out.”

“You really can’t see it, but it must have been a pretty dramatic blow to have that kind of damage,” Linehan said. “It was a very unusual injury, but pretty severe.”

Pace injured his triceps last year, also while pass-blocking on an innocent-appearing play, landing him on injured reserve for the final seven games.

Linehan said the coaching staff hadn’t decided how to fill the void. The top option would be shifting the other tackle, 2005 first-rounder Alex Barron, to the left side to protect quarterback Marc Bulger’s blind side.

Barron has indicated his preference for that side, his college position, several times in the past, although Linehan added “it’s not set in stone.” Olson considers Barron, who has struggled with false starts throughout his career, as one of the most athletic right tackles in the NFL.

“That was probably the reason Alex was drafted, to eventually take over for Orlando,” Olson said. “If we do decide to make that move, we feel confident that Alex can handle the change.”

Both Linehan and Olson said they’ll stick with whatever backup plan they settle on to avoid further strain on a young line. Center Brett Romberg is in his first year as a starter, guard Richie Incognito is in his second and guard Mark Setterstrom, a seventh-rounder last year, made his seventh career start in the opener.

Complicating matters, Incognito has a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the opener, and he’ll likely miss Sunday’s game against the 49ers.

Last year, the Rams plugged in Todd Steussie when Pace missed the team’s fourth game, a 41-34 victory over the Lions. Adam Goldberg started the 10th game, the week after Pace’s triceps injury, and struggled, and Steussie started the rest of the season after moving from left guard.

The Rams can’t fall back on Steussie, 36, for at least a few months this time around after he broke his foot in the final preseason game. Steussie was released with an injury settlement and can’t re-sign with the team until November, and in any case won’t be ready until the second half of the schedule.

Somehow, the Rams had a better record without Pace (5-3) than with him (3-5) last year.

“Everyone’s got to pick their games up,” Olson said. “Shoot, the players understand that.”

Before last season, Pace had been to seven straight Pro Bowls. And until last season he had been durable, missing six games in 2002 with calf and hamstring injuries, but starting every game in the other six seasons.

Goldberg, who made two starts in 2006, replaced Pace in Sunday’s 27-13 loss to Carolina, and his play was judged by Linehan as “fine.” The Rams allowed one sack, but the offense struggled without the anchor of a young line, managing 16 first downs and 238 yards total offense.

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