Warner says dead arm is an issue

Wednesday, August 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS – Baseball's Mark McGwire has a sore right knee, and football's Kurt Warner a tight right shoulder. If St. Louis fans are to worry about the marquee players of their respective sports this summer, Warner says direct that concern at McGwire. Not him.

"It's there," said Warner of the aching bicep tendon in his throwing shoulder. "But it's more just training-camp arm. A lot of quarterbacks get it. I get it every year. It's nothing serious. As we get into one-a-days and have a little more time off before our first game, that isn't going to be a problem."

Still, Rams coach Mike Martz has pulled in the reins on Warner these last two weeks, sensing the golden arm of the NFL MVP has lost some of its zip. The Rams gave Warner a $46 million contract extension this summer, so he's being handled these days with velvet gloves. Minor annoyances become major concerns.

"He's at a point where his arm is extremely tired, fatigued, and this is when you get problems," Martz said last week after the Rams broke training camp in Macomb, Ill. "It's like a pitcher who throws too many balls – if you're not careful, he's going to have a dead arm the rest of the season."

If this is to be a baseball analogy, then Warner is Satchel Paige. Old Satch would throw every day in the Negro Leagues. Then he'd barnstorm in winters. Four days rest? Five days rest? Forget it. Just give me the ball, Satchel would say.

And that's what Warner has been saying for the last five years: just give me the ball. He was a standout college player in Iowa – but it was at Northern Iowa, not the University of. So he went undrafted by the NFL and signed as a rookie free agent with Green Bay in 1994. The jump in competition was long and his stay in camp short.

Unemployed and unwanted, Warner needed to find a way to revive interest from the NFL. So he turned to his best asset – his arm. He threw and threw and threw, hoping to impress one team, even one scout, with hopes that one day someone in the NFL would give him another chance.

For three years (1995-97) Warner labored in the Arena League, where all they do is throw. He played 48 games with the Iowa Barnstormers from '95 to '97 and threw 1,635 passes, an average of 34.1 per game. And that doesn't include practice. If you've ever watched an Arena League game, you know they don't practice handoffs.

His arm finally got the attention of the Rams – and he played an entire year for them in 1998. Not a season, a year. The Rams sent him to the World League, where he threw 326 passes in 10 spring games. That's 32 throws per game. Without an off-season, he reported to Rams training camp.

Now, understand the NFL's summer strategy with quarterbacks: every team has a starter and backup and usually brings in another two quarterbacks as camp arms. Their job is to throw passes in all the drills, allowing the Troy Aikmans and Brett Favres to save their arms for the season.

That was a Clint Stoerner in Dallas and a Danny Wuerffel in Green Bay this summer. It's not the quality of throws that matter to their NFL teams. It's the quantity of throws. For two summers (1998-99), Warner was a camp quarterback for the Rams. He was an arm brought to camp with the sole intention of wearing it out.

Then Trent Green went down with a knee injury at the end of the 1999 preseason. Having traded Tony Banks, the Rams were left with two options: Satchel Paige or rookie Joe Germaine. The Rams went with Old Satch – the 28-year-old Warner, who had never started an NFL game and had thrown just 11 passes.

Warner came out throwing with three TD passes in the opener against Baltimore – and he didn't stop throwing until February when he played his final game at the Pro Bowl.

By the time the Pro Bowl was over, Warner had thrown 682 passes in 20 games. That's an Arena League-like 34.1 passes per game. Then came the club's off-season program and minicamps. Then another training camp, where Warner said, conservatively, he threw 1,000 balls per week.

Dead arm? His arm ought to be falling out of the socket from overuse these last five years.

Martz said Warner showed signs of some tiredness in his arm in the second half of the 1999 season. His mechanics started breaking down to compensate for the weariness. He started using a three-quarter delivery, and the throws were flattening out. Martz said he saw some of that again this summer.

So don't expect Warner to light up the Texas Stadium sky in the Rams' preseason finale Thursday against the Cowboys. Martz would rather save his passes for the regular-season opener against Denver 12 days from now.

"This is precautionary," Martz said. "This isn't a reaction to a potentially critical situation. When he has a tight shoulder, it's an indication that he's had too much work. He's not injured. We're not going to let it get that far."

Martz says he isn't concerned about Warner because his quarterback takes such good care of his body year-round and is religious about the time he spends in the weight room.

"He keeps up his body strength," Martz said. "He's really strong in the legs, which has a lot to do with it. He uses his legs exceptionally well when he throws, which will save wear and tear on his arm. A lot of guys don't use their legs as well as Kurt does. He's such a balanced passer."

Even though Warner has finally made it – he's just about every preseason annual's cover boy this summer – he maintains that Satchel Paige attitude. His eyes roll at the mention of "dead arm." Just give me the ball, he says.

"It's nothing," Warner said. "When I can go out and play and not feel a thing before or after the game, it's of no consequence to me. If I had to go out there and every ball I threw was painful, then it might be a concern. But that's not the case.

"My arm has actually felt better through this camp than in previous camps. We're just trying to stay on top of this early so it doesn't become any kind of a problem."

Now, St. Louis, about McGwire's knee...