Bartell Stakes Claim to Spot
Thursday, September 27, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
As he prepared for this year’s training camp and the 2007 NFL season, Ron Bartell worked as though he was preparing to start at cornerback.
When the news came that the NFL was going to suspend incumbent starter Fakhir Brown for four games, Bartell became a starter based on little more than the fact that he was the next man up.
Make no mistake; Bartell finished 2006 with a flourish as he established himself as a solid performer in nickel packages as the corner covering the slot receiver. But working in that role is far different from working as a starter on the outside, something Bartell did as a rookie, but never on any sort of permanent basis.
After proving he was more than capable of playing the nickel, Bartell is making the most of the situation Brown’s suspension afforded him.
“Every time he’s been given an opportunity, since I’ve been here, he’s taken advantage of it and just really improved,” coach Scott Linehan said. “How he started, getting a lot of the starting reps in preseason, to where he’s playing now is night and day. Like last year we moved him into that nickel spot and from the time he was given the opportunity to play he really has improved and become a real solid player for us.”
Since the time Brown was removed from the roster to serve his suspension for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Rams also lost fellow starter Tye Hill. Hill suffered a back injury in practice the week before the second game of the season against San Francisco.
In a matter of about a week and a half, Bartell went from the team’s nickel to the top cornerback on the depth chart. Instead of covering smaller, speedier slot receivers, Bartell was now matched up against the likes of Tampa Bay’s Joey Galloway and San Francisco’s Darrell Jackson.
With Bartell’s combination of size (6’1, 205 pounds) and speed (he runs the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds) make him the prototype of what teams are looking for in a cornerback in today’s NFL.
And Bartell has done nothing but acquit himself well against players such as Galloway. In three games, Bartell has 17 tackles, two passes defended and registered his first career sack against the *****. He held Galloway to 42 yards on four catches last week and limited him to a long reception of 14 yards, not bad against a guy who has made a living off the big play.
The previous week against the *****, Jackson managed just three catches for 61 yards and his 34-yard grab did not come against Bartell. All told, Bartell has helped the Rams to the third best pass defense in the league and a rank of seventh in the NFL in total defense.
“I am having tons of fun,” Bartell said. “If we could get a win, it would be a lot more fun. Right now, I think we are doing well as a group. We have to keep going as a unit.”
Bartell has come a long way since the Rams drafted him in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. At the time, Bartell’s physical gifts were certainly obvious, but he didn’t have a lot of experience and hadn’t played against elite competition.
Coming from Howard University, Bartell didn’t get many opportunities to face future NFL receivers. In addition, he spent his time moving from corner to safety and back. Nobody really knew where he fit in the NFL.
That song and dance continued upon his arrival in St. Louis. He continued to bounce between free safety and corner. Bartell started seven games as a rookie before the team asked him to move to safety for the 2006 season.
Eventually, attrition at corner gave Bartell his first real opportunity to find a home, this time at the nickel spot. Bartell wasted no time getting to work as he had an interception in his first game at the position against Oakland and finished the year with two picks against the Vikings, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
That effort convinced Linehan that he had a rising young player capable of handling anything thrown his way.
“Ron has played very well,” Linehan said. “He has been more than solid. He’s been playing very good football for us which is a great testament to Ron’s ability. He doesn’t listen to this and that; and he should have been this or whether he was coming around. He just went out and did it and proved it on the field, which is what we like to see, especially from our young players.”
For his part, Bartell knows there are still areas he needs to refine. Bartell’s technique sometimes escapes him, especially because he is still asked to play the nickel role on passing downs even though he starts on the outside.
This week, Bartell will face probably his toughest task as Hill remains out of the lineup. Bartell will see plenty of action against Dallas’ uber-talented and always cocky Terrell Owens.
While Galloway is fast and Jackson is solid, not many receivers have Owens’ combination of size, speed and strength.
But Bartell knows that he can’t worry too much about what’s happening with anything but him and he definitely can’t focus on trying to keep a job that he has been working to earn.
“I am not even worried about my position as a starter or playing nickel back,” Bartell said. “Right now, we are just trying to get a win. We will cross the road when it happens. If I am the starter then fine, if I’m not I will be the nickel and I will be happy.”
Brown makes his return to the roster after this week’s game against Dallas. Hill’s return should follow suit in the week or two after that.
It appears Brown will instantly be plugged back into the starting lineup, but Linehan said Bartell has made a strong case to, at worst, continue to get plenty of playing time.
“When Fakhir comes back, I don’t know if you call it open competition,” Linehan said. “We’ll certainly be better off at our corner position. Ron’s in a very good position as a starter and Fakhir will be back in the line up sooner than later whether it’s the first play or the first series. We need Fakhir back out there. Coming out of preseason and from camp he was playing as good as any, probably our best corner at that point. We need him.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Bartell doesn’t think he’s ready to be a starter.
“I think I am a starter,” Bartell said. “I think I am ready to be a starter. That’s not really my focus right now. I don’t want that to be a distraction for me or any of the other guys.”
Re: Bartell Stakes Claim to Spot
This paragraph sets me off a bit, especially the "getting a lot of the starting reps in preseason". What about the new guys...Bennett & McMichael? Maybe just maybe they should have played a lot of reps with the starting unit? Oh yeah we don't want to risk injury. How's that working out? This sputtering, boring offense is killing me and the RAMS. The addition of Bennett and McMichael were suppose to put us among the elite offenses in the NFL. When's that going to happen? (if it ever does) Before it's to late I hope. We were better on offense last season.:x
Originally Posted by RamWraith
I hate to say it because I love the high flying, high scoring offense that we've gotten used to but we should have brought in more help in the trenches. Regardless of the injuries we all know games are won and lost in the trenches. Milford Brown? Please, he's like a swinging gate or better yet a revolving door. No wonder Bulger doesn't want to hold onto the ball and keeps throwing those stupid east west passes. The game is won by moving north or south!!!