'I feel light years better'

ST. LOUIS -- Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace broke a three-day silence on his contract holdout Thursday, saying a lighter playing weight would help him get back into playing shape
in time for Sunday's opener.

Earlier this week, Pace agreed to a one-year, $7.02 million contract as the team's franchise player, and he practiced for the first time Wednesday. He reported at 325 pounds, almost 20 pounds below last year, and believes that will offset the fact he's got only four practices to get ready.

During the offseason, in addition to working out on his own, Pace largely eliminated fried foods from his diet and cut back on his soft-drink intake.

"I feel light years better than I did last year," Pace said. "I feel a lot quicker, a lot fresher. That was one of the elements I dealt with last year, just trying to get the weight down."

After two workouts, the Rams have been pleasantly surprised by Pace's conditioning.

"It looks like he's been here all camp, honest to goodness he does," coach Mike Martz said. "No mental errors and he's quick, he's physical.

"At this time last year he was very sluggish and the conditioning was a factor for him."

Martz said there's no question Pace will be ready for the opener.

"If there was any doubt, if he was not in great shape or if he was sloppy and making mistakes out here, you'd have to consider otherwise," Martz said. "But it's clear in my mind, he's looked

Pace, the first overall pick of the 1997 draft, has been a holdout in three of his eight seasons. He said there's been no backlash from teammates who went through two-a-days plus four
preseason games.

"Really the bottom line, and what matters most in this locker room, is how the guys feel," Pace said. "And they're happy to see me and they're happy I'm back on the team."

Pace said a holdout was his only option when the Rams designated him as their franchise player for the second straight season. Now that he's signed the Rams and Pace's agents, the Poston brothers, can negotiate a long-term deal.

Not that he's holding his breath, considering the sides were far apart the last time they talked.

"Right now I'm not really focusing on next year," Pace said. "Whatever happens at the end of the season, hopefully I can sign a long-term deal. If not, we'll be sitting here talking about the same thing next year."

After three holdouts, Pace remains steadfast in support of his high-profile agents. He also said the bottom line is these are his decisions.

"I always have confidence in the people that represent me," Pace said. "They're professionals in what they do and they have to get the most for their clients.

"Hey, they work for me. That's the bottom line."

Pace joins a line that has been a source of concern all summer. The other tackle, Kyle Turley, is on injured reserve after reinjuring his surgically repaired back early in training camp. Center Dave Wohlabaugh was released following hip surgery when he was unable to pass his physical.

Only Pace and right guard Adam Timmerman remain in the same positions from last season.