By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Sep. 30 2007

Ask Rams cornerback Ron Bartell what he likes to do off the football field, and
you get a roll of the eyes, accompanied by a hearty laugh.

"I may be one of the most boring guys on this team," Bartell said. "Football is
pretty much my life. I watch football all day and just try to get better and
learn."

Bartell's play this season has hardly been boring. Veteran Lenny Walls, a
fellow cornerback, called Bartell "physically one of the most imposing corners
I've played with."

Coach Scott Linehan said: "Every time he's been given an opportunity, he's
taken advantage of it and just really improved. How he started, getting a lot
of the starting reps in preseason, to where he's playing now is night and day.
... Ron has played very well."

But has he played well enough to hang on to his first-team spot when Fakhir
Brown returns next week? Brown's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's
substance-abuse policy ends after Sunday's game at Dallas.

Brown and Tye Hill were the starting corners last year. Hill will miss his
third consecutive game with a back injury.

"When Fakhir comes back, we'll certainly be better off at our corner position,"
Linehan said. "Fakhir will be back in the lineup sooner rather than later,
whether it's the first play or the first series. We need Fakhir back out there."

Bartell has been starting in Brown's spot on the right side opposite Walls, who
is replacing Hill. How the duty will be divvied up when Brown and Hill return
is yet to be determined.

Worrying about possible scenarios would be counter-productive, Bartell
emphasized. "I'm not going to get caught up in a who's-the-starter type of
thing; that's the coaches' decision to make," he said. "Actually, I can't wait
for Fakhir to get back; he's a big part of our secondary and the defense."

Besides, Bartell has plenty on his mind as he prepares for the Cowboys (3-0).
"We're 0-3 right now; my focus is on getting a win Sunday," he said.

To have a chance at doing that, the Rams need to limit the damage done by
heralded wide receiver Terrell Owens. He has 329 receiving yards, No. 4 in the
league, and his 20.6-yard average per catch is unmatched.

Heading into this season, his 12th, Owens ranked fourth on the NFL's career
list in touchdown catches (114), 16th in receiving yards (11,715) and 17th in
receptions (801).

At 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, Bartell has the size to battle Owens, 6-3 and 218.
He also has the speed to stay with him. Whether he can withstand the wily
Owens' shifty moves, burst after catches and constant chatter are the key
questions.

"It's a big challenge," said Bartell, 25. "He's big, physical, probably a Hall
of Famer, one of the best receivers in the game. I'm definitely excited, but
you also have to be cautious not to give up a big play."

Big plays were a concern in 2005, when injuries shoved Bartell into seven
starts at corner as a rookie. A second-round draft choice, he stumbled on
occasion but gained much-needed experience. Bartell started his college career
at Central Michigan and wound up at NCAA Division I-AA Howard.

The transition to the NFL included some growing pains. It didn't help that he
was being shuffled between corner and safety. His breakthrough came in the
second half of the '06 season, when the coaches committed to him as a corner
and he was installed as the nickel back.

In the final three games — all Rams victories — Bartell collected all three of
his interceptions, tying him for the team high for the year, and seven of his
17 tackles. In a season-ending 41-21 victory at Minnesota, Bartell picked off
two passes and returned one for a 38-yard touchdown.

Thus, Bartell was a logical choice to take over during Brown's absence.
Bartell's 17 tackles are fifth among the defenders and include a 13-yard sack.

"I think I've been pretty solid," he said. "I think I've done everything that
they've asked me to do, and the experience has been great for me. ... I'm just
trying to work on being an all-around player."

That's a highly achievable goal, according to Walls.

"He's young, so he has to continue to improve and learn the game," Walls said.
"But he has every tool you need in a cornerback. He has the size, he has the
speed, he has the agility, he has the confidence. ... The sky's the limit for
him."