Rams Reshuffle at Corner

Posted Sep 14, 2011

It had been little more than a week since the Rams released Tim Atchison in the final round of roster cuts before the start of the season when he got the call from the team to return to St. Louis.

By Wednesday morning, Atchison was back on the practice field and facing the very real possibility he could make his NFL regular season debut on Monday Night Football against the Giants.

“I was excited,” Atchison said. “I honestly didn’t know what to think. It happened so fast that I got the call and I was already at the airport. I am glad to be here so whatever chance they give me I’ll be ready for it.”

The chance for Atchison could be a big one following the season-ending neck injury to starting cornerback Ron Bartell. As the Rams place Bartell on injured reserve, officially ending his 2011 season, they signed Atchison to take his spot.

Adding Atchison to the roster is just one of the dominoes to fall at the cornerback position with the loss of Bartell. With fellow starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher nursing a sprained toe, the Rams practice Wednesday with veteran Al Harris and Justin King as the starting corners with Atchison handling the third corner role.

The Rams are hopeful that Fletcher will be OK in time for Monday night’s game but he did not practice Wednesday as he got treatment on the toe. The way the other corners will be deployed this week is dependent on Fletcher’s status.

What isn’t up in the air is that any healthy body available at the position will need to be ready for a heavy work load.

In Harris, the Rams have a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback with a wealth of experience that includes 21 interceptions, 470 tackles and four sacks.

Of course, Harris’ experience also comes with age and he’s still recovering from a left knee injury that spoiled the better part of the past two seasons. He played just three snaps last week against Philadelphia but could be pressed into further action this week.

It remains to be seen whether Harris is up to the task of playing a full game on the outside.

“That we don’t know,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I mean, he’s been running around pretty good. He takes care of his body. I’ve been happy with the things Al’s been able to do. If that’s the direction we go, which it might be right know as we stand, sit here today. I’m ok with that.”

If Fletcher proves healthy, Harris likely wouldn’t need to play a full game and could enter in nickel situations with King kicking inside to the slot.

King got plenty of work against the Eagles last week and had one of his best games as a pro with six tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He also recorded his first career sack.

That production came from his usual role covering the slot receiver in three or more receiver sets.

With Bartell out, King is the top candidate to step into that role on the outside, a job he’s done before but not one he’s done much lately.

“Yeah, I feel comfortable playing corner,” King said. “That’s what I learned how to play first. I learned how to play nickel when I got here. I’m pretty sure I can do it. It’s just football for me to go out there and play. I am confident.”

King entered camp embroiled in competition for a job at a position that seemed to have quite a bit of competition. But he emerged quickly as the favorite to land the nickel job.

Able to stay healthy during the preseason, King made a solid impression on the coaching staff and solidified his spot in the nickel pretty early in camp.

With his health not a question and entering his third season in the same defense, King had his best camp, something that didn’t come as much of a surprise to him.

“I have done what I expected,” King said. “I am just doing what I am coached to do, making some plays that I can make. I’m happy with my performance through the preseason and preseason camp was all right. I’ve got to get better at some things. I’ll move forward and get better. I feel confident in that.”

Speaking of confidence, Atchison returned to St. Louis believing he’s ready to step in and contribute when called upon.

The undrafted rookie out of Baylor came to St. Louis with experience playing safety and corner for the Bears. Plugged in right away at corner, Atchison adapted quickly and though he didn’t make the final cut, he impressed Spagnuolo and the coaching staff enough to be the team’s choice for an addition instead of the handful of corners the team worked out on Tuesday.

“I like the way Tim in training camp fought through some injuries, never missed a rep,” Spagnuolo said. “He was versatile in that he played the nickel and outside. He’s got length to him. He’s obviously a rookie and young, you don’t normally want to throw somebody in to the heat this quick but I think Tim showed enough in training camp both from the physical part and knowledge part that he deserved to get back here.”

Atchison spent his time away from the Rams searching for regular work, even going so far as to cut off his Mohawk in an effort to land a job. After first calling local high schools to try to catch on in coaching, Atchison turned his attention to just any old job be it at a restaurant or a department store.

Watching last week’s game from his home in Sacramento, Atchison was disappointed when he saw Bartell was injured. He also realized it could mean an opportunity.

“But I was hoping for the best,” Atchison said. “I didn’t want him to be injured or anything like that but it did kind of run through my mind they’d bring me back if it was something serious.”

When it was revealed that it was something serious, the Rams brought in a group of corners for workouts on Tuesday. Ultimately, Atchison’s knowledge of the defense and his performance in the preseason was enough to land him the gig.

“Whenever they brought us in, Coach (Andre) Curtis did a good job of just pounding us with the playbook,” Atchison said. “I think that definitely had a lot to do with me learning and developing as fast as I did. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of everything that is going on with the defense.”