Opportunities Abound at Corner

Posted Aug 15, 2011

More than two weeks into this training camp, injuries have affected the Rams just like they’ve affected many teams around the league. But a position that was hit hard by injuries in 2010 is again being ravaged so far this year.

During Saturday night’s game against the Colts, the Rams entered the game with more cornerbacks who appeared in a game for them last year on the sideline than on the field because of an early rash of ailments at the position.

Starter Ron Bartell (ankle), presumptive nickel back Jerome Murphy (broken ankle), Marquis Johnson (knee) and seventh-round pick Mikail Baker (hamstring) did not play in the game. Veteran Al Harris (knee) had missed practice before the game and only played five snaps against the Colts.

That left them with only incumbent starter Bradley Fletcher and Justin King as players with Rams’ experience. When those two exited the game midway through the first half, it left the rest of the game up to a hodgepodge of undrafted rookies, including one signed Friday night before the game.

Needless to say, it made things much more difficult for coach Steve Spagnuolo and his defensive staff working with mostly unknowns on the edge.

“We value that position,” Spagnuolo said. “In the system we run and in most systems in this league, you’ve got to have dependable guys out there on the perimeter. We’re a little banged up there. I know (General Manager) Billy (Devaney) and I talk about it all the time and you’re always searching to maybe change from a personnel standpoint, but until that changes, we’ve just got to improve the ability in the guys that are out there. I think for the most part they’ve done a good job. We’ve got a long way to go here, so we’ll see how it pans out.”

With Bartell and Murphy out and Harris not getting much work, another opportunity presented itself to King, who is entering his fourth season in the league.

Hampered by injuries to this point in his career, he’s flashed ability as a nickel corner before but has been unable to piece it together because of those injuries.

King gave up one long catch but actually had it covered well and simply couldn’t do much about the perfectly thrown ball and acrobatic grab made by Pierre Garcon.

“I thought Justin did a good job,” Spagnuolo said. “There are a couple things here and there we thought he could have reacted quicker to, but on the one play that was caught over him, that was a heck of a catch and a heck of a throw. I’m not so sure what Justin could have done differently to be honest with you. Sometimes that happens, especially when you’re a press team and you play football that way on the back end. Those things are going to happen. What we always tell them, ‘Hey, if you’ve competed at the line of scrimmage, you’ve got your hands on the wide receiver and they complete one like that, we just line up and play defense again on the next down, so don’t let them in the end zone.”

The bulk of the slack was actually picked up pretty admirably by little known rookies Tim Atchison (who actually has more background as a safety) and Dionte Dinkins (a 25-year old rookie). That duo played the bulk of the game and aside from one busted coverage resulting in the Colts’ lone touchdown; they helped hold the Colts to 10-of-25 passing for a rating of 42.8.

Slowly but surely the Rams are getting healthier on the back end. Bartell returned to practice and took reps on Monday and is expected to continue working his way back this week. Baker is expected to do the same and Johnson should be able to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list relatively soon.

In the meantime, the Rams will make due with what they’ve got.

INJURY REPORT: The Rams started getting some bodies back on the field for Monday’s practice as players are beginning to get healthy.

In addition to Bartell, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, defensive end Eugene Sims, defensive end James Hall, linebacker James Laurinaitis and receiver Greg Salas all returned to action in some capacity.

Receiver Mike Sims-Walker (groin) did not practice, as expected.

A couple of additions to the injury report were made, though, as guard Jacob Bell and running back Jerious Norwood were “banged up” per Spagnuolo.

Hank Fraley took repetitions with the first team offense in Bell’s spot on the left side. Keith Toston got a bit more work with Norwood out.

PRACTICE SCHEDULE: The Rams will be back in action tomorrow with at 1:15. On Wednesday, they will practice at 4:30 and on Thursday at 11:15. All practices are free and open to the public.