Back ailment has hindered Archuleta
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch

The Rams' Adam Archuleta gets one of his 85 tackles this season, stopping the Patriots' David Givens on Nov. 7. He's on pace for 136, which would be his second-highest pro total.
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Ask Rams strong safety Adam Archuleta how his troublesome back is feeling these days, and you'll get a sly grin and this measured response: "It's all right. It's been worse."

True, it has been worse.

A bulging disc in his lower back caused him to miss two starts last month, when he was reduced to duty in the nickel and dime packages against San Francisco and Seattle. Before that, Archuleta had started 44 of 45 games in his four NFL seasons.

Being limited in any way rankles Archuleta, whose game is rooted in high-speed sprints and high-impact hits.

"He's an emotional leader, just by how he plays and the aggressiveness he brings to the defense," Rams coach Mike Martz said.

For much of this season, though, Archuleta's explosiveness has been neutralized somewhat by his back problems.

"He's managed it pretty well ... (but) he's taken a step back occasionally," Martz said. "I always know when it's bothering him, because you can just tell by how he moves around."

Archuleta, who turned 27 on Saturday, has remained productive. His 85 tackles rank second on the team to linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa's 95.

Archuleta's 8 1/2 tackles-per-game pace would put him at 136 by season's end and would be the second-highest total (he had 149 in 2002) for the former Arizona State walk-on. Free safety Aeneas Williams calls Archuleta "a tackling machine."

But Archuleta has been less of a disruptive force than in the past, recording just one sack and four tackles-for-loss. He said his back "tightens up on me and doesn't allow me to move as well as I'd like to move."

Archuleta doesn't want any pity parties held in his honor, though.

"I'm not a guy who likes to sit here and make excuses," he said. "Everybody knows it's a lot more ideal situation to play in the NFL when you're healthy. But the reality of it is, are you ever really going to be healthy? It's just something that's part of the job. ...

"Once you've hurt a back during the season, it's not going to go away. You've just got to get it to the point where you can still play and be effective and be accountable to your teammates."

Don't mistake Archuleta's philosophical stance, however: He's plenty frustrated.

"It's not something I'm used to," he said. "For whatever reasons, I haven't felt like myself. Whether that's the back or whether it's ... who knows?"

Fellow safety Rich Coady, who started in Archuleta's place vs. the ***** and Seahawks, said his close friend is driven by a "desire to be great. Off the field, he's pretty laid-back. But you get him on the field and the mentality changes, the mind-set changes. He's definitely one of those guys."

And when he can't throw everything - especially his 6-foot, 223-pound body - head-long into every play, his exasperation grows.

He was particularly upset that despite his tight coverage, Buffalo tight end Mark Campbell outfought him for a 10-yard touchdown catch after the Rams had rolled up a 10-0 lead and put the Bills on the road to a 37-17 victory.

"It's a situation where I feel like if I'm in position, I need to make that play," Archuleta said. "It's a one-on-one battle, and that's what this game is made up of, one-on- one battles. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't come out on top."

It's been a recurring theme of sorts, Archuleta acknowledged, which has added to his dissatisfaction.

"There are a handful of plays that have happened this season where I've said, 'You know what, I should make that play. That's something that I need to do,'" he said. "And until I make those plays or until I prevent those from happening, then I never will be where I want to be."

Archuleta said that as the back has improved, "I've been more consistent. But at the same time, I'm not where I'd like to be. I expect more out of myself."

Archuleta won't need surgery; he plans to gear his offseason conditioning program toward preventing a reoccurrence.

"I've just got to take real good care of it and make sure that's an emphasis," he said. "I don't want something like this to happen again."