Saturday, July 28, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

With or without the four game suspension of incumbent starting cornerback Fakhir Brown, Ron Bartell had grand plans for this year’s training camp. Included in those plans was the idea of taking over a starting job of his own on a permanent basis.

“I was going to come in trying to take somebody’s spot so it’s no difference to me,” Bartell said. “Guys have to come in and compete. A job is never just showing up and giving it to somebody. There is always going to be a competition. It’s unfortunate that it happened but we are going to have to step our game up and see what happens.”

If Bartell’s idea of stepping his game up is anything like what he did in the final three games of the 2006 season then what will happen will likely be Bartell lining up opposite Tye Hill as the starting cornerback.

As injuries mounted in the Rams’ secondary, Bartell finally found a home as the team’s nickel cornerback with Brown and Hill on the outside. The opportunity was a welcome one for Bartell, who had spent most of his first two seasons in St. Louis moving between cornerback and safety.

And Bartell made sure to take advantage of his given opportunity. In the season’s final three games, Bartell was one of the team’s biggest standouts as he racked up all three of his interceptions and seven of his 17 tackles.

No performance was better than what he did in the finale against Minnesota on Dec. 31. Bartell came up with a pair of interceptions in that game; including one he returned 38 yards for a touchdown that essentially wrapped up the Rams’ win early in the game.

Bartell believes the combination of expanded playing time and having a bit more experience helped something click for him in the season’s final month.

“It was a little bit of both,” Bartell said. “I think the game slowed down from my rookie year. Just being put in position to play in one position and not go back and forth from safety and corner, I think that was a big deal. Just being able to play corner in nickel really helped a lot.”

Bartell used that finish as momentum for the offseason and approached the down time as an opportunity to put himself in position to become a starter at cornerback. In the opening couple of days of this training camp, Bartell has taken almost all of the repetitions as the starter opposite Hill.

When the team has practiced nickel packages, Bartell has stepped inside to the nickel role with Lenny Walls on the outside. Even with his apparent lead in the early competition for the job, Bartell is taking nothing for granted.

“I think every year you have to approach camp the same way with the intent of earning a spot and trying to win a job,” Bartell said. “That’s my approach. I don’t do anything different or take anything for granted and that’s the approach I am going to keep taking.”

DRAFT UPDATE: Linebacker Chris Draft visited the hospital on Friday evening for what was an apparent asthma condition. But the initial impression of what ailed Draft proved to be wrong and he was diagnosed with a throat infection.

Draft participated in the first 20 or so minutes of Friday’s morning practice but left the field with trainers and reported to the hospital. He did not participate in the evening session and a timetable for his return has not been set.

After spending the night in the hospital, Draft remained there through Saturday’s afternoon practice. Coach Scott Linehan said Draft is expected back in a reasonable timetable but isn’t sure of an exact time.

“He’s getting better,” Linehan said. “They will keep him for one more night so it doesn’t swell up on him and he’s getting better. As soon as the swelling goes down he will be back here, probably tomorrow. I would think no later than the afternoon.”

Linehan expects Draft back at training camp and in the meetings Sunday afternoon, but isn’t sure about his return to the practice field.

MISSING LINEBACKERS: The Rams were light at the linebacker position already with Draft missing, but took a couple of other hits to the unit on Saturday afternoon.

Undrafted rookie Kevin McLee made the decision to leave the team after dealing with the death of his father. Second-year middle linebacker Tim McGarigle suffered a strained hamstring at the end of Friday’s evening practice and did not participate.

McGarigle has no set timetable for a return either, but Linehan said he expected it would take about a week.

“He could be out up to a week,” Linehan said. “Knowing him he’d get out there quicker than that. But he had enough swelling that we will keep him out. McLee has a lot of personal issues and has decided to hang it up so he is no longer with us.”

To replace McLee, the Rams have decided to bring back Jamal Brooks. Brooks had two stints with the Rams last season, collecting a pair of special teams tackles in six game appearances.

RAM BITS: Saturday’s practice was much hotter than either of the workouts on Friday and yielded a crowd size similar to the 751 that attended Friday’s morning workout…The highlights of the practice included a pair of acrobatic catches, one from tight end Randy McMichael who leapt over safety Corey Chavous and grabbed it off his back for a touchdown in the red zone. Lesser known tight end Marc Anelli made a similar grab when he climbed up over linebacker Raonall Smith, pinned the ball to his back and held on to Smith and the ball as the pair fell to the ground. Both plays drew big applause from the crowd…The red zone offense looked much better than Friday, coming up with about seven touchdowns. Quarterback Marc Bulger seemed to like his new toy in the form of McMichael, looking for him on multiple occasions…Brett Romberg got a few more reps at center, but part of that was many of the veterans getting some down time because of the two on, one off policy Linehan is using for his older players…Receiver Dominique Thompson is one of the biggest beneficiaries of that policy as Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce have gotten plenty of down time, creating opportunities for Thompson. Thompson is involved in an intriguing battle for the sixth receiver spot with Marques Hagans likely his top competition…Rookie defensive tackle Adam Carriker was impressive in his first practice in pads, throwing around some offensive linemen with little trouble.