ST. LOUIS -- No matter how sorry the Rams' season is, Jason Brown wants them to know they can always count on him.
Not just on game day, either.
Brown expects to make his 56th consecutive start Sunday at Chicago, a nice, long run. Even more impressive: He had never missed a practice during his six-year NFL career until Wednesday, when he was held out as a precaution with a sprained right knee.
That Brown was back on the field Thursday wasn't a surprise given that he was a reluctant spectator the previous day, to the point he had his helmet on while riding a stationary bicycle. The mouthpiece was in, too.
"Guys picked on me. They said 'Jason, you're not practicing, why are you taping up your ankles, why are you taping your wrists, your fingers, putting your gloves on?'" Brown said. "I want to be in there. It felt very awkward standing on the outside."
The Rams (1-10) played much of last weekend's 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks minus three offensive line starters after Brown was hurt during the second quarter, but they expect to have two of them back against the Bears. Guard Richie Incognito has taken regular snaps with the first unit the last two days after missing four games with a sprained ligament in his right foot.
"Everything starts up front," Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "When you've got your guys back, it really does help."
Running back Steven Jackson missed practice for the second consecutive day, similar to last week, when he didn't practice at all because of back spasms but then had 89 rushing yards and one touchdown while at less than full strength. He'll try to practice Friday and expects to play against the Bears.
"It feels better," said Jackson, whom the NFL fined $5,000 for throwing a football into the stands after the TD run. "If I don't play, I'll be more surprised than anybody."
Jackson's mentality is similar to that of Brown, who craves being involved.
Reliability is a point of pride for Brown, a former fourth-round draft pick who became the highest-paid center in the NFL when he left the Baltimore Ravens for a four-year, $37.5 million free-agent contract with the Rams during the offseason. His streak of consecutive starts dates to 2006, and he only grudgingly agreed that it was a good idea to watch Wednesday's practice.
Brown compensated for the inactivity with extra conditioning work and a "whole bunch of mental reps," although he admitted keeping the streak alive might have hindered his play on previous occasions when rest would have been better.
"It happens to a lot of guys, that's why you definitely have to keep that line of communication open," Brown said. "They rely on honest information from me, and I rely on their expertise. It's all about doing the smart thing, and that was giving my knee some rest."
Brown believed both streaks might be over last Sunday when he fell backward after a player rolled into his leg.
"I felt a crunch, I even heard a crunch out there," Brown said. "My knee swelled up immediately, and it was intolerable pain."
The Rams' medical staff believes the tumble might have broken up old scar tissue, and the injured area quickly calmed down to the point that Brown was in uniform at the end of the game in case of an emergency.
Barring a setback, Incognito said he would be in the lineup against the Bears. Brown is happy the feisty guard, who's often been accused of playing after the whistle, appears ready.
"I think everybody knows what Richie can bring to the table," Brown said. "He definitely has a toughness that he brings to the game that a lot of people take the wrong way. Sometimes they say he's overaggressive, but I love his aggressiveness out there, I really do."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press