Bartell grows into CB role
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Before he even had his bags unpacked at the start of training camp, Ron Bartell made his intentions clear. With or without a Fakhir Brown suspension, Bartell was coming to camp to start. Even if it meant taking somebody's job.
"Exactly," Bartell said. "As a professional, you have to approach it that way. Nobody wants to be a backup. ... I think I'm a starting quality cornerback, so I'm going to approach it that way."
One thing's for certain: Bartell will be a starting cornerback for at least the first month of the season. The NFL confirmed Tuesday to the Post-Dispatch that any appeal process for Brown already had been exhausted last month, when the league announced a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Bartell will start at Brown's right cornerback spot, beginning Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener against Carolina.
"Ron had his best (exhibition) game last week," coach Scott Linehan said, referring to the Rams' 20-10 loss in Oakland. "He looked the most comfortable. We're still asking a lot of him. He slides in there to (the slot) in the nickel situations. I've been real pleased with his progress."
Most of Bartell's experience last season came as the nickel back, covering slot receivers in three-receiver formations. He excelled there late in the season, recording three interceptions in the last three games and returning one for a touchdown in the season-finale against Minnesota.
With Brown sidelined at the start of this season, Bartell will play cornerback in the base defense, and then slide inside to the slot in nickel situations. This month, Bartell had a couple of bad plays at corner in the preseason opener against Minnesota, giving up a pair of 21-yard completions to Bobby Wade late in the first quarter.
It was just two plays, but as Bartell says: "Two plays can be big. Two missed tackles, but I think I've been pretty steady."
He has, in fact, been very consistent and very steady at cornerback since the early going of that Vikings game Aug. 10.
"My main coverages, I've been right there every time," Bartell said. "I'm not giving up a lot of yards."
In many ways, Bartell is defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's type of corner. He's big (6 feet 1, 205 pounds), he's fast, and his style of play is suited for man-to-man coverage. But Bartell quickly learned that athleticism gets you only so far in the NFL.
"I was touted as a great athlete, but when things start to break down, you have to refer back to your technique," Bartell said. "So you really have to concentrate on your technique at this level of the game. I still have things I struggle on, that I need to do better. I think we all do. But I think my technique's 10 times better than when I came here."
For example, as a rookie, Bartell remembers getting called for a lot of penalties in the preseason for pass interference, or illegal hands to the face. He had a problem with keeping his hands too high when jamming a receiver.
"Now, I don't remember the last time I got called for a 'P.I.,' to be honest," Bartell. "It's just knowing how to play to your leverage. It's just little things that I've been able to pick up along the way."
With Bartell at corner in Brown's absence, it's uncertain whether veteran Lenny Walls or rookie Jonathan Wade will be the third corner in nickel situations.
Re: Bartell grows into CB role
Bartell is one of three young players that if they step up could make the rams very good on defense. If Wroten, Alston and Bartell could put together good years then this defense will be fine.