Fletcher Ahead of Schedule

Posted Jun 13, 2012

In an offseason in which the Rams went out and signed a Pro Bowl cornerback in Cortland Finnegan and then spent two premium draft choices on talented young corners in Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, Bradley Fletcher didn’t flinch.

Sure, Fletcher took notice of the pieces the Rams were bringing in under new coach Jeff Fisher but instead of worrying about what could happen, he has spent as much time as possible working to get himself back up to speed following a second season ending knee injury in just three years.

“Yeah, going into this year I want to come back here and show that I can play even after having another injury,” Fletcher said. “That’s what my plan is, regardless (of the competition).”

Finally a full year removed from a season-ending knee injury he suffered as a rookie against Indianapolis, Fletcher seemed poised to have a breakout year in his third season in the league. He’d shown flashes to that point but was rounding into full health and had emerged as the Rams’ most reliable cover corner.

Unfortunately for Fletcher he had the misfortune of playing cornerback on the Rams in 2011. Essentially, the simple act of having your name listed on the depth chart at that position was enough to put a hex on anyone who dared play there.

Fletcher was no exception and, perhaps, had the worst luck of all. After making it through the first four games of the season, Fletcher suffered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee during a mid bye week practice. It was the same knee in which he tore his ACL and Medial Collateral Ligament in 2009.

The injury was extremely frustrating for Fletcher but he has done all that he can to maintain a positive attitude through his early-career adversity.

“It’s crazy how that can happen sometimes with injuries,” Fletcher said. “But you have just got to play. You can’t play well if you are thinking about getting hurt. To play at a high level, to play fast, to play physical, that’s all we can be worried about.”

If there was any silver lining having to go through a similar injury to the same knee for the second time in three years, it’s that Fletcher at least knew what to expect in terms of the rehab required to get back up to speed.

Fletcher has attacked his rehab in a way that has allowed him to be considered a bit ahead of schedule at this point and even has him participating in all of the team’s workouts with little to no restrictions.
“I’m coming along really well right now,” Fletcher said. “I am able to do everything and not holding out of anything. My knee is coming along really well. I am happy about the way things are going and just the opportunity to compete every day. I am ahead of schedule. I am looking forward to these next couple days of practice and then coming back for camp and being ready to go.”

Of course, Fletcher is also realistic about what he can and cannot do on the field. In other words, while he’s been able to participate in almost all of the OTAs and minicamp practices, that doesn’t mean he’s been able to push the knee and go at full speed.

By his own admission Fletcher hasn’t been able to move with the ease and comfort he’d like and he’s seen youngsters like Jenkins earn time with the top defense in his stead.

Still, Fletcher feels he’s getting better and more comfortable with each passing day and should be a much closer facsimile of his old self by the time training camp begins in late July. 

“I’m just about there now,” Fletcher said. “I know as time goes on and we get to camp, I’ll be 100 percent. When the pads come on and things are live it’s even more important to be ready for sure then. I know I will be ready all the way by then.”

In the meantime, Fletcher has put his focus on getting healthy and learning a new defensive scheme. Under former coach Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams were almost exclusively a press-man coverage defense with the corners expected to spend most of their time near the line of scrimmage getting their hands on receivers at the snap.

Fletcher said Fisher’s defense is man based but incorporates plenty of different looks.

“We are a man team and that’s just what we’re doing,” Fletcher said. “That’s a good thing. We have got options. Sometimes we do things one way and sometimes we do things another way.”

As for where Fletcher ultimately fits in to what figures to be one of the best training camp competitions on the team, he figures all he can do is get healthy and play his best and let the chips fall where they may.

With Finnegan and Jenkins handling most of the first-team repetitions of late, Fletcher has worked his way in on the nickel and received spot reps with the top unit. But there’s a long way to go before anything is set in stone and Fletcher believes the competition will just make everyone and, by extension the team, better.

“There will be a lot of competition,” Fletcher said. “We have a lot of guys that can play corner and we are all jelling right now and learning the playbooks and things and the competition is going to get better once the pads come on and all of that. We definitely want to sure up the back end. It’s looking good right now. It’s definitely going to be very competitive as the season goes on and we could be pretty good.”

QUICK SIGNS: Rookie receiver Brian Quick became the eighth member of the Rams’ 10-man draft class to sign his rookie deal when he put pen to paper on Wednesday afternoon.

Quick’s deal is a standard four-year rookie contract and leaves only cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson as unsigned rookies in this year’s class.

During the offseason program, Quick has impressed teammates and coaches alike with the size, speed and athleticism that made him the first pick of the second round, No. 33 overall.

“The athletic ability is there,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “The one-on-one stuff is all there. When he knows exactly what to do, he does it right. Two weeks ago, there was a lot of information coming in there. He was a little hesitant. He wasn’t hesitant today. He was very explosive, making plays. He’s a big target, as you can see. Real good out of frame. He just needs to practice. He’s not intimidated by anything. He just needs to practice, needs to see things and once he knows exactly what to do, he’ll do it well.”

There are big expectations for Quick though it’s traditionally difficult for rookies to make a big impact right away at receiver. While Quick has all the tools to be a gamebreaking wide receiver, the general consensus has been that it might take him a while to reach that level.

But running back Steven Jackson threw down the gauntlet to Quick when he met with the media on Tuesday. As the most tenured veteran on the Rams roster and a back who could use a wideout capable of opening things up for the running game, Jackson doesn’t have much time to wait for players to develop.

“He’s a big receiver, big target,” Jackson said. “He has a little bit of a ways to go. What I mean by that is coming from Appalachian State - and nothing against it – but it’s a difference. It’s a difference on this field and it’s a difference in the mentality of a pro, and (Wide receivers) Coach (Ray) Sherman, I’m pretty sure he’ll get him right. But over the next six weeks, he’s going to have to work really hard to get ready to prepare for a long season. We’re going to lean heavily on him. He’s a high draft pick and we need someone on the outside to make plays. I’m challenging him right now that we’re going to need him over these next six weeks to prepare himself to be a standout on this team.”

With his contract signed, there are no potential distractions and Quick can solely focus on doing just that.

WELLS EXCUSED: Center Scott Wells has been absent from the majority of the team’s organized team activities and is again not present for this week’s final minicamp.

On Tuesday, Fisher addressed the issue, saying that Wells has been excused from minicamp to take care of a more pressing need. Fisher made it clear that Wells’ absence is actually for something very positive for he and his wife but out of respect for them didn’t want to be letting people know what it was.

Also, Fisher acknowledged that Wells did have a scope on his knee early in the spring and that was the reason he hadn’t been participating in OTAs or the camp. Fisher indicated that Wells wouldn’t be practicing even if he didn’t have the excused absence but also made it clear that the injury is nothing that will keep Wells out when camp comes.

“It’s an excused absence,” Fisher said. “He had a little knee issue that’s already behind him. He has been scoped. He’s doing fine. He’ll be fine for camp.”