Pace missed all of two training camps and most of a third due to contentious contract negotiations, starting with his rookie season in 1997 after he was the first overall pick of the draft. He missed being with the team, but definitely didn't miss a routine that can be numbing.
I was kind of bored," Pace said Saturday. "I worked out and you watch TV, you look at it and see what's going on around other training camps.
"Hopefully, it won't be a long process."
"It's a business, and I think he understands that and the Rams understand that," said Pace, the former serial holdout. "So I wish the best for him."
Jackson's absence has put the Rams' biggest training camp issue -- namely questions regarding Pace's durability and long-term viability after two straight years shortened by season-ending injuries -- in the background. Still, a comeback by Pace, who was sidelined in last year's season opener by a shoulder injury, is perhaps the key to the team's hopes for a rebound from a 3-13 record.
"Having Big O back is definitely a relief," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "I think he's excited to be out there, too."
The Rams plan on easing Pace into full duty, with limited repetitions and no 1-on-1 challenges for now, although thus far he's seen more practice field time than perhaps anticipated. After the team's first full-pad workout on Saturday morning, Pace said he had to get his body used to contact again.
There's also a hurdle to overcome, trusting that he won't get hurt. He was injured on an innocent-looking pass block in last year's opener, tearing his rotator cuff and labrum.
"I feel good but you never know until you take that one shot," Pace said. "It was just one of those things, that when it was time to go it was time to go, and it finally happened.
"The tough thing about practicing now is mentally just being willing to throw the arm in there and use it without even thinking about it."
"You want to be the best at what you do, and I've been working that way," Pace said. "If it happens, it happens, and I'll be excited."
What keeps him going now is showing everyone he can still do it, still add to the resume.
"I want to be able, if possible, to walk off the field on my own terms," Pace said. "And not with a doctor by my side."
Pace joked that all players surely have second thoughts about their love of football during the grind of training camp, but is hopeful retirement is a ways off. He's one of three Rams remaining from the 1999 team that won the franchise's only Super Bowl, along with wide receiver Torry Holt -- Pace's roommate in training camp -- and defensive end Leonard Little.
Watching the playoffs on television last year, Pace recalls the memories from the Rams' postseason runs flooding back.
"It brings you back to how exciting the playoffs are and making that run," Pace said. "That's one thing that really drives you, you just want to win.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press