Healthier Archuleta joins camp, gets ready to move to free safety
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Jul. 29 2005

It's a long way to opening day, but Rams safety Adam Archuleta is taking his
first steps back onto the field after a disappointing, injury-marred 2004
season.

After four seasons in the league and 55 starts, it's almost as if Archuleta has
to prove himself again as a player.

"Absolutely," Archuleta said. "I have to prove myself to me, to my teammates
and everybody. ... I had a down year last year. There were a lot of things
going on - on and off the field. So I have a pretty fresh attitude, and I feel
good physically. I think this is going to be a great year."

It could be just that, but only if Archuleta's balky back cooperates. He was
slowed most of the 2004 season by a back injury that was diagnosed as a
herniated disc at the end of the campaign. It showed in his play. Archuleta
lacked his usual pop and missed more than his share of tackles.

After consulting with specialists, Archuleta opted against offseason surgery,
instead trying to heal the back through rest, treatment and exercise. He was
cleared to practice with the team during the full-squad minicamp in June, but
those were non-contact sessions without full pads.

As of Thursday, Archuleta was in training camp, so the intensity has been
turned up several notches. The team was in full pads Thursday and Friday
morning. Archuleta has been taking his regular turn in practice, except for the
morning 9-on-7 run defense periods, when the opportunity for jarring contact is
greatest.

"I'm moving around pretty good," Archuleta said after Friday morning's workout.
"I'm a little stiff here and there, but it feels pretty good. I'm not worried
about it by any means.

"Obviously, being out on the field and practicing during two-a-days, it's a big
burden. I seem to be reacting pretty well with it. It's a lot of different
movements, and I'm using a lot of different muscles that I haven't used - that
you can't use during the rehab process. So all those things are getting
strong."

As far as sitting out the potential contact in the 9-on-7 drills, Archuleta
said: "I'm not trying to prove anything right now as far as that's concerned.
... It makes no sense for me to go in there and possibly have a setback at this
stage."

The goal is to be ready Sept. 11, when the Rams open the regular season at San
Francisco.

Defensive coordinator Larry Marmie said the Rams gradually will ease Archuleta
back into contact work.

"I guess there's a certain amount of anticipation of getting him in there, but
I still think we've got to be smart with this thing," Marmie said. "But he
looks like he's moving well. He's much better than he was in the spring. He
looks smoother. His change of direction, to me, looks about as good as I've
seen it since I've been here. So I'm very encouraged with what he's doing."

Fluidity and change-of-directon skills are more important than ever for
Archuleta, because he has a new job description this season. After spending his
first four NFL seasons at strong safety, Archuleta is moving to free safety
this season.

In general, the free safety position entails more coverage and more playing in
space. Archuleta has little experience in either area. Remember, he played
linebacker in college at Arizona State. But Archuleta says he's up to the
challenge.

"I think it's good for me, actually," he said. "I embrace the idea. I don't
think people understand that in the years past, the way we did our defense -
even in training camp - I never worked deep. I never worked coverage. I was
always underneath because we knew no matter what that Aeneas (Williams) was not
going to go in the box."

In short, Williams was almost always the one back in coverage, and Archuleta
was almost always the one playing run defense or blitzing closer to the line of
scrimmage.

There's no doubt that having Archuleta play free safety is an effort to make
sure his back holds up. He won't have to absorb the constant pounding of run
support. But there's also a strategic element at work. This season, Marmie and
the Rams are blurring the distinction between the free and strong safety
positions. They want them to be interchangeable parts, with either safety being
able to play in space or play in the box.

"I think a lot of teams are going that way," Marmie said.

It makes a defense less predictable.

"I'm sure that last year, people looked at us on defense, and wherever
Archuleta lined up told them a lot," Marmie said. "It told them a lot about
what we might be doing with the run defense. What we might be doing with the
pass defense. They expected to see Archuleta blitzing more probably than
Aeneas. And in the box more than Aeneas."

The Rams feel Archuleta can fill that dual role of playing more coverage but
still providing run support. But it's predicated on a healthy back. Until
Archuleta starts popping people in games, or on the practice field, there's
going to be a shred of doubt.

"I've got to get back to that mentality and that confidence," Archuleta said.

For him, that's what training camp is all about this year.