Saturday, April 22, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

The sight of cornerback Jerametrius Butler on the practice field for the Rams is an important one for those hoping for an improvement on the Rams’ awful defensive performance of 2005.

But, while fans, teammates and coaches alike are pleased to see Butler back on the field, nobody is happier than the man himself to return to the game.

“It kind of felt good to get out there, running around, stretching, being on the field,” Butler said. “It was a long wait. It’s a good thing, though. I am glad to be back.”

Butler missed all of last season after tearing his posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee early in training camp. That injury was the first of what would become an epidemic for the Rams’ secondary.

That injury bug didn’t help the Rams much in pass coverage as a variety of cornerbacks, including DeJuan Groce, Travis Fisher, Chris Johnson and Ron Bartell, among others tried to fill the void left by the loss of the team’s No. 1 cover guy. Butler’s loss was the first step on the way to a defense that finished 30th in the league in total yards.

After suffering the injury, Butler had surgery on the knee in early August and was placed on injured reserve. He did his best to stay upbeat and positive, even trying to help the other corners improve their games.

But with each game and, more frustrating, each loss piling up, Butler couldn’t handle watching anymore and decided to return to Dallas to continue his rehabilitation. He began running again a little over a month ago and is closing in on a full on return.

“I’m all right,” Butler said. “I am ready to go. They are still holding me back some until May, but by OTAs in May I will be ready.”

Although Butler is being held back from participating in all of the drills, he hasn’t been out of the picture completely. Dressed in his red “do not touch” jersey, Butler has been able to do some limited work, including the occasional coverage drill. He has appeared sharp in the opening minicamp, even in his limited time on the field.

Not only is Butler excited to be back on the field, but he likes the prospect of playing for new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in an attacking scheme that could make his job easier.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Butler said. “You sit back and let them throw you the ball. They either throw you the ball or they get sacked. Either you are going to have a big day or somebody up front might have a big day. It’s a good thing for me.”

Even though Butler is still a ways from being completely healthy, he is making sure to take advantage of every snap and every play in practice to learn his new system.

“I am doing drills so I can get my momentum back and I want to learn the defense so when I come back I will know what to do,” Butler said. “I go out there at the beginning of practice and when they start doing full speed stuff I stop and watch.”

SPOON RAISING: Linebacker Will Witherspoon was the team’s biggest offseason addition. But he was nowhere to be found during Saturday’s practice.

No worries, though, says coach Scott Linehan.

“He had a fundraiser that was actually part of the deal, we didn’t let him out of the building when he signed back in free agency,” Linehan said. “He said he had one thing, to miss the Saturday of the first minicamp. He’s going to be back tonight and he’ll be back here for tomorrow morning’s practice.”

Linehan said he gave Witherspoon permission to miss Saturday’s workout as soon as Witherspoon agreed to sign with the Rams in March.

RED RETURNS: Receiver/returner Brad Pyatt sat out Friday’s afternoon workout after tweaking his back in the morning practice.

“He had (back) spasms so we had to keep him out,” Linehan said. “I think that he got a little better because he was out here, but he wasn’t able to go. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t anything serious.”

It was serious enough to limit Pyatt again Saturday. He missed most of the morning workout and showed up to the afternoon practice in the red jersey, an indication that he is injured.