Rams' Thomas out with torn groin

St. Louis Rams: Starting middle linebacker Robert Thomas, the leading tackler for the Rams, will miss about a month because of a torn groin. The former first-rounder has played much of the year with a groin injury but aggravated it in the first quarter if Monday's win over the Cleveland Browns.

Team physicians said the injury is a serious one, with the groin muscle having torn away from the bone, but Rams officials hold out hope Thomas could return for the playoffs. If the injury does not show progress in the next few weeks, though, Thomas could be placed on injured reserve and a player could be signed to replace him on the roster.

Veteran linebacker Jamie Duncan, a former starter in Tampa Bay and in his initial season with the Rams, will take over the middle spot. He has started three previous games this year and is very familiar with coordinator Lovie Smith's scheme.

A second-year veteran, Thomas had 102 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Baltimore Ravens: Sidelined for the past month by a quadriceps injury, former Ravens starter Kyle Boller has resumed practicing and the rookie could serve as the No. 3 quarterback for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.

The latter of the Ravens' two choices in the first round of the 2003 draft, Boller started the first nine games of the season before suffering the torn quadriceps in a Nov. 9 game against the Rams, and underwent surgery two days later. Just after the surgery, the Ravens suggested that Boller, who starred at the University of California, might be back in the lineup for this week's game, but that was an overly optimistic projection.

Still, the rehabilitation process has gone smoothly and Boller has been relatively pain-free and healthy enough to practice without serious restrictions.

"It's exciting to be back," Boller said. "Having to watch from the sidelines is a pretty frustrating experience. The good thing is, the team has been winning, and playing well, and it's not hard to get caught up in that."

Anthony Wright is 3-1 since replacing Boller and coach Brian Billick has reiterated that the journeyman quarterback will remain the starter as long as he continues to play well. There is a chance that Boller, if he gets through this week without any setbacks, will leap ahead of Chris Redman for the No. 2 job next week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay right offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker, whose performance this season has been marked by a spate of penalties, has been hospitalized with a staph infection in his elbow and could miss Sunday's game.

Walker was taken to the hospital after an existing elbow injury became infected. There is still a chance he could play this weekend, but veteran backup Cornell Green has worked with the first unit and will start if Walker is unable to play. Walker is listed on the official injury report as "questionable" for the game.

The former first-round choice is the latest NFL player to be treated for a staph infection this season and the league has sent memos to all teams addressing what seems to have now become a problem worthy of scrutiny. Walker's elbow was drained to alleviate some of the swelling in the joint.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Backup tailback Verron Haynes has been placed on injured reserve by the Steelers because of torn cartilage in his left knee and the team has signed free agent Dee Brown, formerly with the Carolina Panthers, to replace him.

Haynes had Wednesday surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered last weekend, and he is also recovering from a sprained ankle. His rehabilitation is expected to last about two months and, assuming no complications, he will be ready for offseason workouts.

Brown was a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in the 2001 draft. He missed his entire rookie season with an injury, rushed for 360 yards in 2002, then was released this year in training camp.

New Orleans Saints: Starting right guard LeCharles Bentley is expected to miss the rest of the season after an MRI exam revealed a slight tear to the anterior cruciate ligament of the Saints standout's left knee. The team will decide within the next few days if surgery is required and, if it is, Bentley will be placed on injured reserve.

Even without surgery, coach Jim Haslett said Bentley almost certainly will not play again in 2003. The former Ohio State star had started all 13 games this season despite injuries to his knee and left shoulder.

The coaching staff still graded Bentley's performances as very good until last week's loss to the Bucs. Veteran Spencer Folau will replace Bentley in the lineup.