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Rams 4-1 without Faulk, but more confident

ST. LOUIS -- After six weeks, Marshall Faulk is ready to
return to the St. Louis Rams' backfield. His teammates are thrilled
the multi-talented threat is back.

"Let me think: Former MVP, former offensive player of the year,
Hall of Famer, greatest all-around back ever ... Yeah, I'd say that's a
big boost for us," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said.
"Whenever he trots on the field, we're a better team."

Quarterback Marc Bulger's comfort level in the pocket just went
up, even if the Rams went 4-1 without Faulk. Rookie Arlen Harris,
the former third-stringer who became the feature back after Faulk
and backup Lamar Gordon (high ankle sprain) were hurt, was
responsible for at least two of the five sacks on Bulger in last
week's 30-10 loss at San Francisco.

"He sees so many things," Bulger said. "We've rested him
enough where he's going to be 100 percent and I think he's anxious
to get back out there. When he's anxious and he can play, he's
pretty good."

Even if he's not sure what to expect. Faulk broke his left hand
Sept. 21 and had surgery on his right knee, which turned out to be
the more serious of the two injuries _ although at the time the
procedure was portrayed as a mere cleanup operation.

Faulk dressed for the last two games, but did not play behind
undrafted rookie Harris, who made his first two career starts after
Gordon sustained a high ankle sprain. Harris will be the backup
this week with Gordon out indefinitely.

"For the most part they kind of took it out of my hands,"
Faulk said. "The doc gave me a timeline and he said 'Here's the
possibilities of coming back early, here's what's realistic,' and
we kind of stuck to the realistic goal."

On Wednesday, Faulk was back with the first-team offense. On
Sunday he'll jump into the fire, trying to find holes in the
Baltimore Ravens' defense.

"I don't know exactly what the procedure is going to be or how
much time I'm going to get or how many carries or whatever," Faulk
said. "I'm pretty sure if everything is going good and I'm feeling
good, I'm going to play the whole game."

But he tempered that, knowing it's been a while since he last played.

"Game speed and game tempo is a little different than practice
and conditioning you do on a treadmill and stuff like that, and
there's nothing like getting 10, 15, 18, 20 carries a game," Faulk
said. "I'm sure a fatigue factor might be there, but it might
not."

Faulk has tested the hand without problems in practice, although
he doesn't know how it'll hold up under game conditions. The knee
hasn't been a problem either, lately.

Now it's time to work on that paltry rushing total.

Faulk has only 116 yards and a 2.8-yard average. He's not sure
if the knee was a factor in his early-season woes and won't use it
as an excuse. The Rams' rebuilt offensive line also struggled at
the start.

Faulk has seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons, but right now he's
third on his own team. Gordon leads with 265 yards, a 4.6-yard
average and one touchdown. Harris has 250 yards, a 3-yard average
and four touchdowns.

Actually, Faulk hasn't been himself for almost a season. He was
hampered much of last year with a high ankle sprain and limped to
the finish line, so nobody is expecting too much, too soon.

"I wouldn't expect him to be back at full speed like he's been
going at his top, that's going to take some time," Martz said.
"But Marshall at less than 100 percent is pretty doggone good, and
I think in short order we should see him start to get going
again."