Sunday, June 5, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

After getting a chance to dip his feet in the water at the Rams’ rookie mini-camp last month, Alex Barron probably felt fine about his situation. But with this weekend’s veteran mini-camp comes the responsibility of going from wading in the kiddie pool to diving in the deep end.

Coach Mike Martz announced soon after the draft that the 19th pick in April’s Draft would instantly be plugged in as the starter at right tackle. In addition to the pressure of becoming a starter right away, Barron also has dealt with adapting to playing on the right side full-time.

When mini-camp started on Friday, Barron was the first-string right tackle. By the end of the morning workouts, he was working with the second team. That trend continued Saturday as Blaine Saipaia took most of the repetitions with the first team.

There are a few problems that Barron is dealing with, but right now technique is at the top of that list.

“From the technique standpoint, he is just so far away,” Martz said. “He has to trust what we are teaching him to do with his pass sets and his punch and his arms. Until he can get consistent with that, it’s going to be pretty hard. He was a great athlete who got by on athleticism. His technique was horrible in college.”

That was a concern that Martz expressed when the team drafted Barron in the first round and it has proved true. Barron has looked somewhat robotic in his technique, appearing to process his movements one at a time instead of doing it instinctively.

Barron played left tackle at Florida State, but the Seminoles had a system that used Barron on both sides many times. He played plenty on the right side, but now that he is on that side permanently, he still has quite a bit of learning to do.

Barron said he simply isn’t comfortable yet at his new position.

“It's been a big learning experience, trying to stay focused and learning a whole bunch of new stuff,” Barron said. “I’m learning a new position basically. I've got to get accustomed to different techniques and things and just get comfortable with the footwork from playing on that side.”

With All Pro Orlando Pace operating on the left side, Barron would seem to have a good sounding board to help him through his struggles. Although Pace has played left tackle his entire career, he has had to move to the right side for a short time.

Pace played right tackle in the Pro Bowl and said it wasn’t as easy of a move as some might think.

“It’s a whole other world,” Pace said. “Once you think of right tackle/left tackle, you think it is pretty much the same position, but there are so many different variables of playing that position as far as your hands and your feet.”

Barron has yet to pick Pace’s brain, but someone on the other side of the ball was willing to offer advice Friday. Defensive end Leonard Little gave Barron some instruction during pass rushing drills, but Barron is still working out the kinks.

Barron knows how difficult the task ahead of him is, but he is confident and willing to put in the work to make it happen.

“I think I’ll be able to make the switch, but it’s going to take a lot of time,” Barron said. “It’s not easy at all.”

The demotion from the first team is most likely a temporary move as Barron attempts to learn the position as well as the Rams’ extensive playbook and blocking techniques.

Martz said moving Barron down is more of an effort to let him refocus as opposed to sending a message.

“He got a little shock,” Martz said. “That’s kind of a quarterback type of position on the offensive line. You have got to back off a little bit and let him absorb things a little bit where he gets to the point where he is confident enough to compete over there. Other wise he will destroy all of his confidence. That’s what we are trying to avoid.”

AFTERNOON DELIGHT: Martz gave the team the afternoon off after an extended morning session. St. Louis practiced for about two and a half hours in the morning and was scheduled to have meetings in the afternoon as well as another two-hour workout.

As temperatures rose outside, Martz decided to give the team the rest of the day off, including meetings.

INJURY CHECK: Defensive end Anthony Hargrove was the first injury casualty of the mini-camp, suffering a right knee strain in a drill Friday afternoon.

Hargrove’s knee was heavily wrapped Saturday morning and is probably out for the rest of the weekend. He strained the knee in a routine pass rushing drill Friday and had an MRI the same day. That checked out clean and he expects to be fine.

“I was out in the open by myself and I hurt my knee,” Hargrove said. “It’s nothing serious. I’ll let it rest and be ready by Monday.”

Cornerback Travis Fisher was also limited in Saturday’s morning workout because of a mild strain in his hip.

CHANGING NUMBERS: Backup quarterback Jeff Smoker got a little surprise in his locker Saturday morning.

Instead of the usual No. 9 red jersey, Smoker found a red No. 15. Apparently, the move to the new number came at the request of the coaching staff. Maybe the No. 9 brought back bad memories from the days of Joe Germaine.

Linebacker Chris Claiborne also switched numbers, going to No. 51 after sporting No. 59 for the first two months of his Rams’ career. When the team released Tony Newson earlier this week, No. 51 opened for Claiborne. Louis Ayeni, who was signed to replace Newson, took 59.