Healthy Dahl Happy to Contribute
By Jonathan Webb/Special to stlouisrams.com

Fresh off his best game as a professional, Craig Dahl believes heís finally able to show his full potential.

Dahl finished with a team-leading seven tackles, a sack and his first career interception in Sundayís 19-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. It was the latest installment of what has been a successful second half for the fourth-year safety.

Since his start against Carolina on Oct. 31, Dahl has led the Rams with 41 tackles while establishing himself as the teamís every-week starting strong safety. Not bad for a guy whose career had been riddled with injury entering this year.

ďOnce you make it in this league and kind of get situated and get some comfort level, and then get injured, itís always a battle to get back to where you were,Ē Dahl said. ďI feel like now my bodyís caught up with me, Iím back to where I am. Just to be given the opportunity to come back after injuries like that is just a blessing. Itís just given me all the confidence in the world to be the player I thought I always was.Ē

Three years ago, Dahl was a long way from being a starting safety for a first-place team.

At the end of his rookie season in 2007 with the New York Giants, Dahl suffered a torn ACL, forcing him to miss the teamís Super Bowl run and the entire 2008 season. Injuries continued to plague Dahl after joining St. Louis last year, as a strained hamstring last year and a concussion in week two against Oakland slowed his progress. Being able to put his injury woes behind him has been a relief for Dahl.

Now healthy, Dahl has proven to be productive when given the opportunity to succeed. After splitting time at strong safety last year, Dahl has started nine of the teamís 12 games, a career high.

During that time, Dahl has proven to be a versatile defender. For a player who spends most of his time in the secondary, Dahl has earned a penchant for making plays at the line of scrimmage, as he is tied with linebacker Naíil Diggs with five tackles for loss, the fourth-most on the team.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was Dahlís defensive coordinator when the two were together in New York, has been encouraged by Dahlís performance near the line of scrimmage and in coverage.

ďHe made a bunch of plays last week,Ē Spagnuolo said. ďA couple of blitzes he had were really pretty good. He played real aggressive and he made the plays when they were presented to him, and at the safety position thatís big. When they throw the ball to you, youíve got to catch it, and he did. That sounds like a small thing, but he made some big plays for us.Ē

Though his biggest contributions have been from the safety position, Dahl has not been restricted to the defense. He has also proven to be capable on special teams, where he contributes on punt and kickoff coverage.

Dahlís versatility went a step further in the Ramsí 36-33 win in Denver two weeks ago, as defensive coordinator Ken Flajole inserted Dahl in the lineup to play the nickel when the teamís linebacking corps was thinned by injuries. The more responsibilities, the better, according to Dahl.

ďShoot, Iíll play wherever Iím needed,Ē Dahl said. ďBeing in this scheme for so long, you understand the ins and outs of not only your position, but the positions around you. Being able to fill in for guys if they happen to get injured or something like that, itís something Iím willing to do.Ē

INJURY REPORT: With Drew Brees and the Saints on the slate this weekend, the Rams are ailing in the secondary.

Cornerback Ron Bartell and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe are both battling shoulder injuries sustained against Arizona. The two defensive backs did not practice Wednesday. Rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (ankle) and running back Kenneth Darby (ribs) did not participate in practice.

Other defensive backs safety Craig Dahl (knee) and cornerbacks Justin King (shoulder) and Jerome Murphy (hamstring) were limited in practice Wednesday.
Bartell said he may have to manage his injury for the rest of the season.

ĒI have still got some time before the decision has to be made so weíll see,Ē Bartell said. ďI am optimistic but itís just something I will have to deal with the rest of the season. Iíll take the next couple of days to try to get as healthy as possible and try to give it a go on Sunday.Ē

Atogwe does not anticipate his shoulder will prevent him from starting Sunday at New Orleans.

ďThereís nothing really wrong. Itís more of a bruise,Ē Atogwe said. ĎJust going out there, knocking people down, knocking people out. It happens once in a while and your shoulder gets a little sore. Thatís all.Ē