Injuries making it even harder for struggling Rams

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(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By R.B. FALLSTROMAP Sports Writer

It was tough enough for the St. Louis Rams to be competitive when they were all healthy.

Lately, mounting injuries have increased the degree of difficulty for the Rams (2-8), who played for the NFC West title last January but have been among the NFL's worst teams this year. Four starters did not practice Wednesday, notably middle linebacker James Laurinaitis with a foot injury, and seven others were limited.

That's on top of their list of 11 players on injured reserve, five of them starters on opening day and two others with significant starting time.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said there might be some position shifts on the line on Sunday when the Rams play the Cardinals (3-7) for the second time this month to avoid a repeat of what happened in last weekend's loss the Seahawks.

Tackle Kevin Hughes was elevated from the practice squad a day before the game after Rodger Saffold was placed on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, and was pressed into service after tackle Mark LeVoir was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Predictably, Hughes struggled against defensive end Chris Clemons, who had a career game with three sacks and two forced fumble in what Spagnuolo noted was an unfair challenge.

''We're going to give all of them reps at the positions they play, we're going to ask some other guys to do multiple things because we have to,'' McDaniels said. ''You're going to have to potentially play a guard at tackle, potentially play a center at guard, swing guys left and right, and if something does happen in the game there's going to be some moving parts and pieces.''

Center Jason Brown could get back into the mix after getting benched the last two games in favor of Tony Wragge. Brown got some snaps at center Wednesday and said he's never felt better for this time of the year. But for the wrong reason.

''Not being in there on Sundays, when I get home it's like I'm still full of energy,'' Brown said. ''Some people are happy or just fine being spectators but that's never been me.''

On Wednesday, Marquis Johnson became the 10th cornerback placed on injured reserve, sidelined by a lacerated spleen. Three of the top four cornerbacks are out for the year and it's anticipated that they'll finish the year without both offensive tackles, too. Jason Smith is likely out for a fifth straight game and Spagnuolo said earlier in the week the team might face a decision soon.

The leading wide receiver, Danny Amendola, was knocked out in the opener, and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui went on IR last week.

Justin King is the lone cornerback remaining from the top four, and he was limited by a knee injury Wednesday. Cornerback Nate Ness was elevated from the practice squad on Wednesday.

Spagnuolo has no idea why injuries have been hit so hard. Hiring a nutritionist, who makes sure players get in three meals on a game that starts at 3 p.m., and emphasizing modern training techniques have been no help.

''I think our trainers and strength people do a great job,'' Spagnuolo said. ''We have guys on extensive stretching programs just to get them ready for practice.''

Players are well-hydrated, too, some of them getting IVs to make sure.

''So we think we're doing anything and everything there is you could possibly do to avoid injuries,'' Spagnuolo said. ''And yet the game is a physical game, so we're going to have them.''

Notes: On defense, tackle Justin Bannan and linebacker Josh Hull also did not practice Wednesday. On offense, LeVoir and Smith did not practice.

Tagged: Rams, Jason Brown, Jason Smith

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