Rams Cornerbacks Coming on Strong

Posted Oct 2, 2012

When rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson picked off Russell Wilson midway through the second quarter of the Rams’ win against Seattle on Sunday, it was no surprise that the Rams defense came up with an interception.

What might have come as a surprise is that it was Johnson and not Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins or Bradley Fletcher that came up with it. That’s not a commentary on Johnson as a player so much as a commentary on the fact that Johnson was getting an opportunity with the three corners ahead of him in the rotation playing at such a high level.

Much like his rookie brethren at receiver and running back, Johnson is starting to earn more opportunities each week and he plans on maximizing those chances.

“They put a few packages in for me,” Johnson said. “I was ready for it. They call my number; I’m going to be ready for it. Of course, I am taking advantage of my opportunity, that’s all. I’m just trying to make a play and help this team win.”

Johnson took full advantage of that opportunity against Seattle as he came up with perhaps the most unique of the team’s eight interceptions on the season.

As Wilson’s pass arrived for receiver Doug Baldwin, Johnson arrived on the scene and hit him almost simultaneously. The ball came loose and took a perfect bounce into Johnson’s grasp.

“I delivered the hit and the next thing you know, the ball is in my hands,” Johnson said. “I’ll take it. It’s my instincts. The ball was right there, luckily I was there to grab it and fall to the ground with it.”

By the time Sunday’s win against the Seahawks was over, the Rams had taken the NFL lead in interceptions with the aforementioned eight. Further, each of the four corners on the roster had at least one interception with Finnegan leading the charge with three.

To put that type of output into context, the six interceptions by Rams cornerbacks through four games is more than the group had all of last season. The entire team had just 12 interceptions in 2011.

“We’ve come on,” coach Jeff Fisher said Monday. “The good thing for us right now is I think we’re leading the league in interceptions. You have to do that in order to have a chance to win when the offense has been struggling scoring.”

Since Fisher made those comments, Chicago added five picks to its tally to reclaim the league lead but the point remains that the Rams secondary, particularly at cornerback is perhaps one of the most improved position groups in the league.

“Interceptions are, often times, they’re team interceptions,” Fisher said. “You’ve got Jenks for example making contact with the quarterback and the ball fluttering and Rocky making the catch and so interceptions are often the result of pass rush and pressure. Then there are just great plays. We hope they keep coming.”

Getting timely takeaways isn’t the only specialty of the group, either. Through four weeks, the Rams sit 12th in the league in pass defense, have given up two passing touchdowns (tied for first in the NFL for fewest allowed), are holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 64.2 (second lowest in the NFL) and giving up 10.5 yards per completion (fifth best in the league).

The corners are playing well enough that Fisher has had no need to have Finnegan or any of his fellow corners shadow an opposing wideout even with such stars as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall on the schedule.

That has allowed Finnegan to further embrace his leadership role and make plays from the slot, where all three of his interceptions have come from.

“We haven’t necessarily matched Cortland because of the way Janoris is playing and Fletch is playing and Tru can play,” Fisher said. “Cort has taken the young group and showed them how to study and showed them how to prepare so they can recognize things and anticipate things.”

Finnegan is the veteran of the group at 28 but is surrounded by youngsters in Fletcher (26) and the two rookies Jenkins (23) and Johnson (22). The scary part for opposing defenses might just be that this group is only scratching the surface of its potential.

“I don’t know if we have developed as quickly as we would like to,” Finnegan said. “We have still got some growing pains. We are still getting used to each other and the defense so I think over time; hopefully we can say we have grown as a defense and a secondary.”

SMOOTH PRACTICE: Given the short week, Tuesday’s practice was essentially a Thursday practice and for a group of sore players who have had almost no down time since winning against Seattle on Sunday, Fisher has been impressed with how that group has responded to the challenge.

After a relatively short practice with limited activity on Monday, the Rams had something more of an approximation of a normal practice on Tuesday and left Fisher pleased with their work.

“They did a great job, that was a great practice,” Fisher said. “It’s a little hard to imagine it’s been a little over 48 hours since we just finished a game but we got rested up, got focused, got the plan in and we had a good day today.”

Because of the short week and because of the evening start, Fisher adjusted the schedule a bit on Tuesday so the players wouldn’t need to report for duty as early as they normally would.

“We let them sleep in this morning, trying to get used to as close to kick off as you can,” Fisher said. 

DRESS CODE: There should be little doubt about what uniform combination the Rams will wear when they make their 2012 primetime debut.

Let’s do a little arithmetic to deduce what that combo will be. The Rams have played two games at the Edward Jones Dome this year. The Rams won both of said home tilts. In both games, the Rams wore blue jerseys with blue pants. See where we’re going with this?

“There’s a really good chance we’ll be blue on blue Thursday night,” Fisher said. “It has nothing to do with me being superstitious.”

Fisher said the decision on which uniform to wear which week is a collective decision but declined to provide specifics. Still, so long as the Rams are winning in the blue on blue at home, it’s likely they’ll keep wearing them.

INJURY REPORT: The injury report on this short week is ever evolving as a number of players who were limited or missed Monday’s practice returned to action given an extra day of rest.

For the Rams, defensive end Eugene Sims (head) and tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice. Neither is expected to be available in time for Thursday night’s game.

Running back Steven Jackson (groin), tackle Wayne Hunter (knee) and defensive tackle Matt Conrath (knee) were listed as limited participants. That’s an upgrade from not participating yesterday for Jackson and Hunter.

Receiver Brandon Gibson (knee), receiver Danny Amendola (ankle), safety Matt Daniels (hamstring) and end William Hayes (knee) were upgraded to full participation. Gibson sat out Monday’s practice and the other three were limited.

Of note for Arizona, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was limited with a hamstring injury for the second consecutive day. Dockett did not play last weekend against Miami.

Fisher, of course, hopes Dockett recovers but maybe if he takes a little longer he’d be OK with that, too.

“We really hope he heals up, next week,” Fisher said, laughing. “He’s a really good player. If he plays and he’s healthy, he’s a play maker and he can collapse the pocket and he’s a good run defender.”