By Jim Thomas

Adam Carriker admits to a having had a case of butterflies going into last week's exhibition opener in Minnesota. But they didn't last long. Just ask Matt Birk and Adrian Peterson.

"To be honest with you, after about the first series, I was like, 'This ain't really any different than practice,' " Carriker said afterward. "It was just like practice to me."

On the second play of the second series, Carriker practiced his shedding technique by disposing of Birk. Then he practiced his tackling technique, dropping Peterson for a minimal gain.

"It's always good to make that first tackle," Carriker said.
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Especially since it was against a former Oklahoma Sooner in Peterson. "He ran over us a few times when we were at Nebraska," Carriker said.

Before his work was finished for the night, Carriker had been on the field for 24 defensive plays, had three tackles and generally clogged the middle and pushed the pocket. Which is precisely what you want from a defensive tackle, particularly a nose tackle.

As coach Scott Linehan milled about the field after the 13-10 Rams victory, he ran into Birk, who offered a glowing assessment of Carriker.

"Matt said: 'He's a load. He's a handful, and really a heck of a player,' " Linehan said. "That's coming from a Pro Bowl center. That says a lot."

There's plenty of room for improvement for Carriker. Not to mention three more preseason games before he makes his regular-season debut. But so far, Carriker's transition from college end at Nebraska to NFL tackle in St. Louis is going smoothly.

As the Rams were evaluating potential draft picks on the defensive line, particularly at tackle, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett originally viewed Carriker as a 3-4 end who might occasionally move inside. But the more Haslett and the Rams watched tape of Carriker, and the more they were around him, the more convinced they became that he could be a full-time tackle.

"At his workout, he could stay low, which is important inside," Haslett said. "We thought there's a pretty good chance this guy could go in and play probably any position you really want. He's that good."

By no means does Carriker's performance against Minnesota signal that he's a finished product as an NFL defensive tackle. But it did show that the Rams weren't off in dreamland in projecting him as a tackle.

"This was live competition," Haslett said of the exhibition. "Now, Adam wasn't perfect (Friday), but he played pretty darn good. He's got a long way to go. But the good thing about it is he will get there because he wants to."

Things happen more quickly inside than at end. Blockers come at you from all angles, and in a variety of combinations. Double-teams are the norm, particularly when playing the nose, so the opportunity for piling up gaudy tackling stats is reduced.

Carriker is making the adjustment, with some help from his teammates. Twelve-year veteran La'Roi Glover, a six-time Pro Bowler, has been particularly helpful on the practice field and in the meeting room. Before the Minnesota game, Glover sat with Carriker for about a half-hour and watched Vikings tape.

"He told me a lot of their tendencies, pre-snap reads, stuff they like to do," Carriker said.

That mini-film session may have helped Carriker shed Birk and drop Peterson in the Metrodome. "We noticed on film that Minnesota's o-line likes to pull when they're leaning," Carriker said. "The guy was definitely leaning before the snap, so I just got a pre-snap read on him."

Saturday's contest with San Diego will mark another test for Carriker and the Rams' run defense. Even with LaDainian Tomlinson watching from the sidelines — LT doesn't do preseason — the Chargers know how to run the football.