ST. LOUIS -- Running back Steven Jackson is ready to give the St. Louis Rams offense another lift. They're hopeful this return lasts longer than one quarter.
Jackson returned to full duty in practice on Wednesday after recovering from a bulging disc that knocked him out of the Rams' last game before their bye week. Jackson had led the winless Rams to an early 14-0 lead against the Browns, running in the words of teammate Randy McMichael like a "wild beast," before the back locked up.
"We haven't been in that position all year," Linehan said. "We're always optimistic when he's in the lineup."
Without him, the Rams faded in a 27-20 loss that left them at 0-8 heading into Sunday's game at surging New Orleans.
"When he went out we figured we could keep it going," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "It makes you realize how important he is to the energy and the balance he brings to the offense.
"We've got to keep him healthy and hopefully he can make it through the whole game, because I think he can change the game that much."
Jackson, who led the NFL with 2,334 yards rushing and receiving last season, missed a month earlier this year with a partially torn groin muscle. The Browns game was his first since the injury, and he was shocked when results of an MRI exam showed a bulging disc.
"I didn't think the injury was going to be that severe," he said. "We went in at halftime and started trying to loosen it up, and I should have known it was something serious when it just quite wouldn't act right."
The Rams believe the injury can be managed the rest of the year by limiting Jackson's carries or giving him occasional rest. He's second on the team in rushing with only 274 yards, two fewer than rookie Brian Leonard, along with 10 catches for 66 yards.
Jackson said Leonard, a second-round pick, also is playing with a bulging disc sustained during the preseason. Jackson resisted the temptation of a painkilling shot, preferring to try rest and other more conservative approaches.
"It locked up on me in the game, and that week really allowed it to heal itself, let it calm down," Jackson said. "A lot of experts were leaning toward injecting the disc and I kind of shied away from that."
"We've got to get the confidence back in our offense, we have to get the offense putting up numbers once again, and have a defense that's feared," Jackson said. "Once we get to that level, I think we will get respect from other teams."
The Rams have other hopeful news on the injury front, with kick returner/wide receiver Dante Hall (high ankle sprain) and center Brett Romberg (two sprained ankles) given a shot by Linehan to return on Sunday. Hall, who has missed three games, was at full participation in practice, while Romberg was limited on Wednesday.
Linehan said if Romberg could play he'd consider trying him at guard this week with backup Andy McCollum at center.
"It's not an ideal situation but it's the one we're in," Linehan said. "Bottom line, you still want to try to get your best five on the field."
Bulger, who missed two games with a pair of broken ribs earlier in the season, said his ribs were almost 100 percent and that the swelling was down in his bruised right knee.
Guard Richie Incognito underwent surgery on his right kneecap on Tuesday, a procedure that the team had projected would knock him out the rest of the year. But the Rams are holding off placing him on injured reserve in case he's able to recover in the next month.
"It's not a real rosy picture for him to be back sooner than later, I wouldn't think," Linehan said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press