Thursday, October 4, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Like any other Rams fan watching the team the past four weeks, Fakhir Brown couldn’t help but be frustrated as he watched his team fall to 0-4.
And Brown knows exactly what it was like to be a Rams fan the past four weeks. After a suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, Brown was forced to miss the first four games. At least in terms of playing in the games.
But Brown wasn’t about to let a suspension force him to miss the games altogether. Brown attended all four games and did it like any other fan. He walked up to the ticket office, forked over face value for seats for he and his brother and watched the games from the stands.
“It was hard to sit back, wanting to be out there,” Brown said. “I learned a whole lot and saw a whole lot different things than being out there on the field. In a way I got something out of it. I really wanted to be out there playing.”
While Brown felt the frustration of the team’s difficult start like any fan, he is different from them. He can actually do something about it.
Brown returned to the practice field Wednesday morning for the first time since the conclusion of the preseason. After a plethora of injuries and a pair of suspensions, getting back any healthy starters is a plus for the banged up Rams.
Coach Scott Linehan said he could tell Brown was back immediately and Brown was instantly plugged back into the lineup as a starter.
“It was noticeable having him back out there, getting hands on balls, and tight on coverage,” Linehan said. “It’s nice to have him back out there. My message to the football team was, ‘we started our climb back into being healthy and getting our roster back into place with Fakhir being out there and Richie (Incognito) being out there today.’ Hopefully we’ve turned a corner.”
The timing of Brown’s return could probably have been a little better considering the success someone named Patrick Crayton had last week against the St. Louis secondary. But in Brown’s absence, young Ron Bartell has played well and established himself as a player capable of handling a starting job.
Also in Brown’s absence, the Rams lost fellow starter Tye Hill to a back injury that has kept him on the sideline since the opener against Carolina.
That injury left Bartell, Lenny Walls and Jonathan Wade as the team’s primary cornerbacks. Upon Brown’s return, though, Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett wasted no time in putting him back in the starting lineup opposite Bartell and in place of Walls.
Considering Arizona’s talent at wide receiver with the likes of Anquan Boldin (though he’s injured and might not play), Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson, Brown’s return to form will have to be expedited.
“He’s a big guy with good speed, toughness, knows the system,” Haslett said. “That’s a big thing. He’s big guy that can bring people down. He’ll be a little raw because he hasn’t done much, but with three, four practices, he’ll be fine.”
Other than attending games during his time away from the team, Brown has been doing his absolute best to stay in shape. He was allowed to work out at the Russell Training Center, though he couldn’t participate in team workouts.
So, Brown would come in early in the morning or late at night to work with the strength coaches. Those workouts included normal weight lifting and plenty of work on his cardiovascular health.
Brown said his main focus was on trying to be in the best possible game shape. With that in mind, he didn’t limit his workouts to the stuff at the training facility. He also worked out at a local high school, running on the track almost every night.
Brown has spent the first two practices of the week working to ensure that he doesn’t have any letdowns in terms of conditioning against the Cardinals.
“This week I’m going to focus on trying to get my cardio up and try to make sure my techniques are down pat,” Brown said. “That’s what I’m going to have to really use – my techniques. Hopefully, my wind will hold up.”
Through two practices, Brown’s wind has held up fine as he has taken practically every repetition as the starting cornerback. Brown believes that in some ways his time away from the field has made him a better player.
Given the chance to watch the games from the sideline, Brown did his best to watch the subtle nuances of the game and pick up on some things in terms of technique that will help him in the long term.
As for the suspension, Brown says he can’t think about what’s happened, only what can happen in the future.
“I’ve served my time and I can’t do anything about it,” Brown said. “I’m not even worried about it. I’m just looking forward now. I’m just trying to get in shape, get back in game mode and do as good as I can. I’m not worried about that anymore.”
Last season, Brown was perhaps the Rams’ best cover corner. He played and started in 14 games with 76 tackles, a sack, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and nine passes defended.
Despite having the best track record of any of the Rams’ cornerbacks, Brown fully expects the Cardinals to attack him early and often to see where he is physically.
“I think they are going to come at me,” Brown said. “They are going to have to test me out and see if I’m in shape and if my skills are what they were. I’m expecting them to come at me. I haven’t been here and I want to do well. I’m back facing two good receivers, so it’s a statement game.”