By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

Sure, Adam Archuleta was surprised that his "career" at free safety lasted all of one exhibition game. But you always can expect the unexpected at Rams Park, particularly in August.

"We're trying to sort through some things and sort through some personnel," Archuleta said. "So it's better now than in the middle of the season."

Coach Mike Martz announced Monday that Archuleta was moving back to strong safety, the position he has played in the NFL since being selected by the Rams in the first round of the 2001 draft.

"It's going to be a good thing for us, and I think it's going to help our defense," Archuleta said. "I play strong safety. That's what I am. I love playing that position."

He loves being closer to the line of scrimmage, more involved in run defense and more involved in blitzing.

"I've always enjoyed being the guy to be able to mix it up," Archuleta said. "To be able to run around and just cause havoc, that's kind of my game. Being a free safety gave me an opportunity to be in on different types of plays. But now, I just like being able to fly around and just have fun. ... That's when I'm at the top of my game."

One reason for the switch to free safety was concern about his back. He played in pain most of 2004 with an injury that eventually was diagnosed as a herniated disc. The free-safety position involves more coverage and less banging than strong safety, so in theory, the switch would be easier on his back.

Archuleta said his back came out of Sunday's San Diego game in good shape.

"Sure, you get sore," he said. "It's the first time I've had a contact since January. Especially full-speed contact. But I was fine working out hard the next day. It felt pretty good."

Nonetheless, Archuleta felt some anxiety entering the San Diego game, not sure how his back would respond to full contact.

"Am I going to be able to move around?" he wondered. "I started the game out pretty stiff, but as the game went along, I loosened up, and everything started working better, and I was flying around better. So it was definitely a step in the right direction."

Unfortunately for Archuleta and the Rams, running back LaDainian Tomlinson came streaking into the secondary on San Diego's fifth offensive play, long before Archuleta got loosened up.

Tomlinson easily eluded Archuleta with an open-field fake and raced to the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown. Given the amount of space Tomlinson had to work with, could anyone have brought him down in the open field?

"It depends on who you ask," Archuleta said.

In comments after the game, Martz said he thought Archuleta should have made the tackle.

"They say that it's a tough play, but I want to be the guy to be able to make that play," Archuleta said. "That's just kind of the pressure I put on myself. Everybody says that no safety would make it, but like I said, I kind of hold myself to higher standards, and I'd like to see myself make it."

Although listed at 223 pounds on the Rams' roster, Archuleta is playing much lighter than that, at 208 pounds.

"I don't think I've ever been 223," he said.

He normally enters a season between 210 and 215 and loses a few pounds over time. That raises questions about whether he can hold up at the lighter weight this season, particularly now that he's back at strong safety.

"I'm a little lighter than I have been traditionally, but I played linebacker in college at 200 pounds," Archuleta said. "So I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal. Weight really doesn't affect me much. Obviously, I would like to be around 215 or 210, but what am I going to do? We're in August. This is the season. I've got to go forward."