Monday, September 17, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Given just three days to prepare himself for life on the left, tackle Alex Barron acquitted himself fairly well in his first NFL start at one of the game’s most important positions.

“For his first time it wasn’t a bad game,” coach Scott Linehan said. “It was new. He had been playing pretty darn solid for us on the right side. For the most part he held his own. He, just like the rest of us, is going to have to play a lot better than we did.”

After making the first 28 starts of his NFL career at right tackle, opposite positional icon Orlando Pace, Barron made his NFL debut at left tackle against San Francisco on Sunday.

Playing left tackle wasn’t anything completely new to Barron, who played on that side the majority of his time in college at Florida State. But it was fair to say it was like trying to re-learn how to ride a bicycle after being away from it for so long.

Barron officially moved to the left side last week after it was determined that Pace had a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. After careful consideration, Linehan and staff decided the move made sense since Pace was going to be out for the entire season.

Barron spent his offseason in Florida working on his overall game and had his finest training camp. Poised to have a big season at right tackle, his world turned upside down when Pace was injured.

In three days of practice, Barron did as much as he could to jog his left tackle memory, but he was underwhelmed by his performance in his debut.

“It was all right,” Barron said. “It didn’t turn out how I wanted it to turn out. It wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t all good either. It was kind of flipping the brain switch right then. If I’m going to be over there I better get used to being over there. That’s what it looks like. So we have some time, we can do some things in practice to tone it down better.”

The Rams allowed six sacks to the ***** and quarterback Marc Bulger was hit countless other times. For his part, Barron was solid in pass protection, but the *****’ exotic and numerous blitzes made life difficult for the entire offensive line, Barron included.

“I think he played very well at times,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “I think Alex, before it’s all said at done; he’s going to be fine at left tackle.”

Another week of practice should allow Barron to be even better against Tampa Bay and there are plenty of Rams that believe he could have a solid season on the left side when all is said and done.

For his part, Barron says he just needs to start seeing the results to believe it.

“We have these days during the week where you can get some work in and me especially since I moved positions,” Barron said. “If I can put some hard work in, I can build confidence in myself.”

HEAT OF THE MOMENT: Running back Steven Jackson was clearly not pleased with his performance in the heat of the game. After a quick start for the second week in a row, Jackson soon ran out of room to run and we held well under 100 yards for the second week in a row.

After a third down incompletion on the team’s second to last drive against the *****, Jackson was visibly upset as he came to the sideline. He was so mad, in fact, that he didn’t realize the Rams were going to go for it on fourth down until halfway through the play clock when he went in for Brian Leonard who was checking into the game.

Both Jackson and Linehan said the running back wasn’t upset about anything in particular, just frustrated about the way the game was going.

“I don’t have any issue at all with Steven,” Linehan said. “Sometimes he gets a little animated because he is a competitor. He didn’t say anything to me that I heard. Sometimes my kids run up to their bedrooms and cuss me out too.”

Jackson echoed Linehan, saying it was just a heat of the moment thing.

“I was upset mainly because I thought we were going to come out on top and I thought we were going to win,” Jackson said. “I was hoping that we could put together a successful drive and it wasn’t going that way. It was just frustration more than anything.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams entered Sunday’s game against the ***** relatively unhealthy, but the good news Monday was that they didn’t add much to an already lengthy injury list.

Quarterback Marc Bulger was probably the most banged up Ram following the loss to the *****. San Francisco sacked Bulger six times and hit up a dozen more during the game, leaving Bulger with bruised ribs after the game.

Bulger was walking gingerly Monday at Russell Training Center with a wrap on his left leg but indicated that he was feeling OK

“He got hit a lot,” Linehan said. “That’s a normal day’s work for a quarterback. We’d like to keep it to a minimum if we can, though. It’s going to be a key to our success here in the upcoming games.

Elsewhere, guard Claude Terrell has a sore right thigh that is being classified as a bruise and a knee injury. He had an MRI on Monday, the results of which are not yet available. Linehan said he didn’t expect anything serious.

Tight end Randy McMichael has a tight right hamstring he pulled on the first catch of the game. McMichael played through it, but was sore Monday.

Tackle Milford Brown suffered an ankle sprain, but returned to the game. Linehan said he would be OK unless he has issues in practice Wednesday.

Receiver Drew Bennett (calf) came out of the game fine and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (ankle) and guard Richie Incognito (ankle) will be evaluated as the week goes on. Sources indicate that Incognito could return as soon as this week’s game as he gets closer to recovery.

Defensive end Leonard Little has a sprained toe and won’t miss any time this week.

Also, there have been conflicting reports about the severity of cornerback Tye Hill’s injury. The initial reports said he would miss four to six weeks because of broken bones in his lower back. But later it was said he has broken ribs.

Linehan clarified the situation Monday afternoon.

“It’s not broken ribs,” Linehan said. “He has a real painful injury in his lower back. Basically, the best case scenario would be two to three weeks. We are doing it week to week with him. It’s basically how he feels more so than it takes four to six weeks for it to heal. It’s a pain thing.”

HONOR ROLL: Five players were given plaudits for their performance against the *****.

Receiver Isaac Bruce earned the team’s Offensive Player of the Week award after posting eight catches for 145 yards while working against Pro Bowl cornerback Walt Harris.

Defensively, the award was split three ways as two young players made their presence felt and a normal contributor had a solid effort.

Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan was the biggest surprise, coming up with eight tackles, a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on just 18 snaps against the *****.

“(That was) unbelievable production for the amount of snaps he played,” Linehan said. “It’s really encouraging to see a young player come in and play like he did.”

Cornerback Ron Bartell also had a strong outing against the *****, also. Bartell was sticky in coverage and came up with a sack, six tackles and a pass defended while covering veteran receiver Darrell Jackson. Bartell also made an impressive tackle for loss on a reverse in the second half.

Linebacker Will Witherspoon led the team in tackles and got a share of the honors.

On special teams, linebacker Quinton Culberson made his presence felt with some tackles on coverage units, including one at the 20 on the opening kickoff.

SECOND GUESSES: In the moments following Sunday’s game, Linehan said he wouldn’t have done anything different on the team’s final drive with the possible exception of not spiking the ball to stop the clock with 1:15 to play.

On Monday, Linehan said he was wrestling with his choice on that play all night, but he stuck to his initial thoughts on having Jeff Wilkins try a 56-yard field goal that would have potentially won the game.

After watching the tape, Linehan said Wilkins’ kick was about as close as possible without actually going through the uprights.

“I looked at it last night about 10 times and it looked like it was about 2 feet every time, it was that close,” Linehan said. “It’s a game of inches.”