By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
08/01/2004
MACOMB, Ill. - Rams running back Arlen Harris knows that barring catastrophe, he'll be on the 53-man roster when the season opens Sept. 12. But that doesn't mean he's on cruise control at training camp.

"You're trying to climb up the charts," he said. "You definitely can't relax."

A year ago, Harris came to Western Illinois University as an undrafted rookie, signed as a free agent after an impressive showing at the Paradise Bowl in Las Vegas, an "all-star" game in which NFL scouts evaluate college seniors. A consensus All-American as a high school senior in Garfield Heights, Ohio, Harris endured three injury-plagued three seasons at Virginia, then transferred to Hofstra for his senior year.

An eligibility issue kept him off the field that year, and he fell off the NFL radar. But when given a chance by the Rams, he responded: Other than starting linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, no rookie had a greater impact on the team last season than Harris. He played in all 16 games, with two starts, rushing for 255 yards and four touchdowns, catching 15 passes for 102 yards, and averaging 23 yards on 51 kickoff returns.

"I knew my abilities," Harris said. "It was just a matter of going out there and making some plays. This year, I'm just going to try to build on it."

He started by building his body. Harris, who played at about 212 pounds last season, has bulked up to about 225. Coach Mike Martz ordered the extra weight so that Harris, No. 3 on the depth chart at tailback, can fill in at fullback and pair up with Marshall Faulk in the backfield in certain situations. "They're trying to use me in a lot of different ways in the offense," Harris said.

Martz said, "He went to work in the offseason, and with that added girth and weight, he also increased his speed. When that happened, he really got our attention, because he's got some real live ability in terms of reading and cutting and breaking tackles and all those things. He's way ahead of where he was a year ago physically, and I think that's terrific."

Harris' solid rookie season not only solidified his spot on team, it gave his psyche a lift, too.

"I just feel so much more confident and have such a better understanding of the offense," he said. "I feel like I can be more effective."


Rams take
slow approach


The Rams were scheduled to work out in full pads Sunday morning, but because the injury list continues to mount, Martz decided to keep them in shells for both practices.

"We did a study on this, and usually in Day 5, 6 and 7, that's when you really sustain a lot of your injuries in camp," he explained. "That is the red-hot time. You just kind of have to be careful."

Virtually all the injuries suffered since camp started Wednesday are minor. "Those are nicks," Martz said. "You can get (the players) back in short order."

Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy (back) and linebacker Tommy Polley (toe) returned to pratice Sunday. But safety Rich Coady remained on the sideline; he has missed two days with back spasms. Coady sheepishly acknowledged that he suffered the injury while tying a shoe.


Rookie kicker cut

After announcing the signing of tackle Greg Randall to a one-year contract this morning, the Rams cut place-kicker Dillon Pieffer.

Pieffer was a rookie from UNLV who signed with the club in late July.