Rams Counting on New Corners

Posted Oct 12, 2011

Through the eyes of Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, it was perfect coverage.

In a bye week practice last week, cornerback Bradley Fletcher stayed glued to the hip of wideout Mike Sims-Walker, rose to make a play on the ball and knocked it away. The technique was perfect and all was well until Fletcher came down the wrong way.

“I mean it was a simple…it wasn’t anybody banging around,” Spagnuolo said. “He made a really nice play. He came off and knocked it out, but when he came down, it looks to me like he stepped on Mike’s foot and just turned it. Just a freaky, freaky thing.”

Unfortunately for Fletcher and the Rams, it was just the latest in a line of freaky things that have hit this team this year. And once again, the freaky thing hit the same position it’s been hitting for most of the season: cornerback.

The result of the play was a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in Fletcher’s knee, the same knee in which he tore multiple ligaments in 2009. Effectively, the play ended Fletcher’s season as he was placed on injured reserve Monday.

Fletcher became the third of the team’s top three corners to go on injured reserve this year, joining Jerome Murphy (ankle) and Ron Bartell (neck) on the sidelines. In addition, the Rams have previously placed fellow corners Dionte Dinkins, Mikail Baker and Tim Atchison on that same list before parting ways with them.

The injury to Fletcher leaves the Rams with Justin King, Al Harris and plenty of question marks on the depth chart at corner. Recently signed veteran Rod Hood, early season pickup Josh Gordy and newest signee Brian Jackson all could figure into the mix in varying degrees.

“I’m not sure how that will iron out right now,” Spagnuolo said. “We want to take a look at everybody we have. (CB) Rod (Hood) and Al are going to have to play some football for us, otherwise we won’t have enough. Justin King he’s been a warrior because he has been out there for everything, nickel and corner. So we’ll see what happens.”

Of the trio of Hood, Gordy and Jackson, Hood is the most likely to be caught up to speed and ready to contribute this weekend against Green Bay.

Having played nine seasons in the league, Hood comes with a wealth of experience in the league and even has some background in Spagnuolo’s system from time the pair spent together in Philadelphia. Of course, he hasn’t played in a game since 2009 after a knee injury kept him out all of last year.

Signed on Sept. 27, Hood has had all of about seven practices to learn the Rams’ defensive scheme.

“I’ve been playing the game nine years professionally,” Hood said. “You put a helmet on and you get familiar. For me, it’s more just looking at the plays and deciphering the plays. The skill level always has been there. When you have been playing for a while, it’s there. It’s just understanding and recognizing schemes.”

To that end, Hood didn’t allow himself the leisure of a bye week vacation. Instead, he spent his time holed up at the Russell Training Center with cornerbacks coach Clayton Lopez watching film and going over the basics of the scheme.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to Fletch but it’s time for some guys to step up,” Hood said. “I think that’s what they brought me in for. It’s time to get in the game plan as much as I can and be ready to go on Sunday. Once I got on the team I am definitely devoted to being here. To me, I have been off for two or three weeks not playing so I am ready now to play.”

While he doesn’t have the experience of Hood, Gordy has been with the Rams a bit longer and has been a valuable player on special teams in his two games on the active roster.

Gordy signed with the Rams after being released in the preseason by this week’s opponent, Green Bay. He played on special teams last year with the Packers, earning a Super Bowl ring in the process but never got much of a chance to contribute on defense.

That time could be coming this week, though, as the Rams work to get Gordy up to speed.

“You always have to stay ready,” Gordy said. “That’s the mindset you should have all the time. I’ve waited all these weeks; we’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty comfortable. I have been here going on four or five weeks so I have got confidence in the playbook enough that I think I can be a help to this defense.”

Like Hood, Gordy has had to adapt to a new scheme though he doesn’t have the same level of familiarity with this one as Hood did. Gordy has just four games of NFL experience with none of that work coming on defense.

Considered a bit of an up and comer, Gordy has some solid physical tools he’s working to refine after spending a season learning from some of the league’s top corners in Green Bay’s Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.

“You learn a lot of technique from them as far as how they play the game, a lot of smarts about the game,” Gordy said. “Just watching those guys for a whole year, that’s something that is good to pick up. It was really beneficial.”

Like Gordy, Jackson fits the bill of a bigger, more physical corner who can play Spagnuolo’s preferred press coverage. But Jackson, who spent last year with the Giants after being released by the Jets, just signed Monday and would be hard pressed to be ready to contribute right away.

Considering the challenge the Packers offense presents, the Rams will need all hands on deck in the secondary, though.

“Going into a game, every play essentially comes down to one on one matchups,” Gordy said. “That’s what we have to focus on; winning those one on one matchups. If you take care of that, you will come out good no matter who it is.”

The Rams continued to work to get Gordy, Hood and Jackson up to speed in Wednesday’s practice and will attempt to continue to push them toward that in the next couple of days leading up to the game.

With King and Harris likely to get the work as the starters, at least one of Hood, Gordy and Jackson will need to be ready to come in for the nickel package with King moving inside. Hood would seem the most likely for that job but Gordy and possibly even Jackson will need to be on call and ready.

Considering the way injuries have hit the cornerback position, the next man up had better always stay ready for this Rams team. 
“Somewhere in there we’re going to have to find us two corners, obviously, to play the base package and then three of them when you move Justin inside,” Spagnuolo said. “Another one to play in any kind of nickel or dime package. We’ve got to find ways to be productive as a defense.”