Associated Press


ST. LOUIS - With first-round draft Alex Barron holding out, St. Louis Rams second-round draft pick Ron Bartell is the rookie that all eyes are upon in training camp.

While Barron is haggling over a contract, Bartell is on the field with his teammates working every day to make the jump from small-school standout to a contributor in the NFL.

Bartell, a cornerback from Howard University, impressed the Rams coaching staff with his natural athleticism. Now, according to Rams Head Coach Mike Martz, Bartell needs to learn the fundamentals of the position in order to help the Rams this season.

"Ron has a long ways to go from a technique-aspect, but I love his confidence," Martz said. "Ron's a big player who runs like a small player and we've got to get him to play defense with his feet and not his hands."

The 208-pound cornerback comes from relative obscurity to assuming a key role in the Rams secondary. While Bartell is not expected to bump starting cornerbacks Jerametrious Butler and Travis Fisher from the starting lineup, he is expected to provide depth.

Several cornerbacks from small schools, such as Drayton Florence of the San Diego Chargers and Rashean Mathis of the Jacksonville Jaguars, have turned into starting cornerbacks.

Bartell is looking at Florence and Mathis for inspiration and doesn't see why he can't achieve the same success.

"Guys like Drayton and Rashean have set the bar pretty high for all cornerbacks from small schools," Bartell said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself and I want to do anything where I can help the team and I feel like I can really help the team this year."

One adjustment Bartell will have to make from college to the NFL is the illegal contact rule that began being enforced last season. The rule states there should be no contact with receivers after the receiver is five yards from the line of scrimmage.

"Adjusting the rule is tough because it is not enforced in college and that is one of the things I've been working on in training camp," Bartell said. "One thing I've noticed is that all the receivers in the league are so strong you have to use technique and not your hands to keep them from catching the ball.

"It's tough to understand that after five yards down the field I can't use my hands and get a penalty. But I have to adapt and adjust and use other ways to keep the receivers from making plays."

The Detroit native admitted he was in awe of the Rams superstars his first day in the locker room. In fact, Bartell said he grew up a fan of the Rams and their explosive offense.

"I used to watch all the Ram games when I was younger and now to be teammates with these guys is great," Bartell said. "The first time I went into the locker room and saw Torry (Holt), Isaac (Bruce), Marshall (Faulk) and Orlando (Pace) it gave me an incredible feeling knowing I was teammates with them. I remember watching them win the Super Bowl and for me it is great that I now am on the same team as the guys I watched growing up."

Martz has been impressed not only with Bartell, but the play of the entire secondary early in training camp. Martz even went so far as to say he has never been around a group of defensive backs so fundamentally strong.

"From the starters to the backups this is the best secondary I've been around," Martz said. "It is a thrill for me to watch them because they all are playing at a high level and that is what we expect from them."