Monday, August 4, 2008

By Brett Grassmuck

Staff Writer

It’s never a good thing to lose players to injury. But these are the dog days of training camp, and unfortunately having a couple banged up players is part of it.

The Rams secondary took a beating early on when cornerback Fakhir Brown suffered a shoulder injury early in camp. He is expected to miss as many as four weeks. Cornerback Tye Hill has since returned to practice, but missed a couple days with a quadriceps injury.

With the Rams top two corners out of commission, the young cornerbacks, fourth-round draft pick Justin King and Jonathan Wade, had a chance to step in and take some reps with the first team.

“There’s nothing like being in there, under the fire and learning,” Wade said. “It’s still not a game, but it is a game out here at practice, depending on how you approach it. I approach every snap as if it’s a game. Getting the reps has been wonderful. It allows the coaches to know what they have in you and when they can rely on you, what you’re good at and what you need work on. It gives them a better look at you…I know that my teammates will be back and better than ever, and we will continue to progress as a unit.”

King enters this season in a similar situation to where Wade was just one year ago. Both were great athletes coming out of college, and both needed time in the system to develop.

In Wade’s case, having that first year of NFL experience under his belt helped him tremendously. He’s becoming a more polished player, reacting to game situations instead of thinking.

“Wade is becoming a much more consistent player,” secondary coach Ron Milus said. “Through this first week, he’s made quite a few plays. I think the biggest thing for him is the consistency of his play. He’s eliminated a lot of the mistakes that he made a year ago. It will be interesting from this point on to see where he goes as far as his game is concerned.”

Last season, Wade played in all 16 games as a rookie, making his first NFL start against the Green Bay Packers week 15. He finished the season with 21 tackles (19 solo) and one interception against the Arizona Cardinals in the final game of the season.

“In my case, (last season) was a lot of what not to do,” Wade said. “It helped a tremendous amount to take everything that I was able to do and able to learn, and everything that I was able to see, and use it this year as firepower.”

Wade is using his first year in the league as motivation, and he’s come to camp looking to correct his mistakes. So far, it’s worked for the cornerback as he’s had his hands on a couple of interceptions through the first week and a half.

“I had a friend of mine tell me in school that until I started believing that I caught touchdowns, that’s when I would start catching touchdowns,” Wade said. “Even though I play defense, I catch touchdowns.”

King has also been the beneficiary of several extra reps during the first two weeks of camp. Unfortunately, King was also the victim of the injury bug as he suffered a hamstring injury in Friday’s morning practice.

After having the weekend to recover, King was back on the field Monday morning, sharing Wade’s second-team reps as Wade worked in with the first team.

“When we drafted Justin, we thought that we had a pretty good athlete,” Milus said. “The only thing he lacked was the knowledge of our defense. After the (organized team activities) and studying over the summer, he’s come back with a better feel for what’s going on. I think he’s a lot more confident than he was when he first got here.”

King’s confidence has shown up on the field. While he hasn’t been mistake free, he certainly has been picking up the defense more quickly than anticipated.

“I feel 100 times more comfortable than I did in (organized team activities),” King said. “I’m relaxed. In (organized team activities) there was a lot of thinking and frustration, but I think it’s starting to click.”

Both Wade and King have had the benefit of learning from veterans like Brown, safety Corey Chavous and even the younger guys like cornerback Ron Bartell and Hill.

“They’ve helped me out a lot,” Anytime anything goes wrong with me and the coach yells at me, they’re the first people to bring me over and tell me to calm down or show me the right thing to do.”

Neither Wade nor King are perfect players just yet, but both have come a long way in a short period of time.

“Those two kids are going to be key to how (the secondary) plays this year,” Milus said.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: The Rams had a number of players return to action as six injured players suited up for Monday’s morning workout. King, who had been out with a hamstring injury, linebacker Chris Draft and tight end Joe Klopfenstein, who had both been out with stiff backs, were full go on Monday.

Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring), fullback Dan Kreider (knee) and offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom (knee) were back on the field, but limited to individual work.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery (pelvic bone), Brown (shoulder), tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring) and defensive end Victor Adeyanju (finger) missed Monday’s practices.