Injuries linger in secondary
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It has been a preseason of waiting for Steven Jackson, fretting over the first-team offense, watching rookie Chris Long and keeping an eye on Orlando Pace's shoulder, Torry Holt's knee and Leonard Little's toe.
Almost overlooked in all this is that half the Rams' starting secondary has been sidelined since the start of training camp.
Cornerback Fakhir Brown went down with what was described as a slightly torn rotator cuff during the first practice of training camp July 25 in Mequon, Wis.
Free safety Oshimogho Atogwe went down with a hamstring injury on the first Monday of camp, July 28.
Neither injury was thought to be serious. But the days missed became weeks, preseason games came and went, and the regular season grew ever closer. Now, with just 12 days left before the Sept. 7 opener in Philadelphia, the status of Brown and Atogwe remains murky.
Monday brought encouraging news on Atogwe. He took part in only his second practice since the injury occurred. (He tested it during an Aug. 12 practice at Concordia University Wisconsin but then backed off.)
"He looked sharp," coach Scott Linehan said following Monday's practice. "It seems to be close to 100 percent. So he's going to get work a little similar to like we're doing with Steven (Jackson); we'll try to accelerate his mental (work) and his conditioning."
Atogwe got work in both individual drills and team periods Monday. He was his usual feisty self, yapping at the offense and at one point slapping wide receiver Marques Hagans in the face as Hagans ran a pattern over the middle.
Atogwe has taken a conservative approach in his rehab work because hamstring pulls can be tricky injuries: It's tough to know when they're truly healed.
"You don't want to come back too early, or else they'll be lingering all season," Atogwe said. "So I'm going to get it right so it'll be good for the rest of the year.
"It's definitely frustrating to be away from something you love doing. ... But you've got to see the bigger picture. You've got to get back right so that when the time really matters and the (team) really needs you, you can be there for them."
As for Brown, although he has done some individual drills and enough running on the side to qualify for the U.S. Olympic track team, he has yet to take part in a full-fledged practice since the original injury.
"I know he feels better," Linehan said. "He's not 100 percent. He's getting closer. But he's been really working hard. I bet he's in about as good a running shape as he's been in a long time."
The problem is, Brown's shoulder isn't all the way back because of what doctors said was a hole in a tendon.
"That's mainly what I'm waiting on to get well," Brown said. "The rotator cuff, that's really not bothering me right now. It's mainly the hole in the tendon.
"I was hoping to try to get in a preseason game so I could get my feet wet a little bit. But I don't think I'm going to be able to do it this year."
With a short work week, and only one full practice remaining before Thursday's Governor's Cup game, there's no way Brown will play against Kansas City. Even as a nine-year veteran, Brown isn't thrilled about missing all of training camp and what soon will be all of the exhibition season.
"It's real tough," he said. "Because all offseason, I worked real hard for training camp. Everybody needs to sharpen their tools, so I need to be out there trying to get my techniques down, and work on some other stuff to try to continue to get better."
Atogwe and Brown have been starters during both of Jim Haslett's previous two seasons as Rams defensive coordinator. So knowing the scheme and knowing where to line up won't be a problem.
"It's more about the timing and getting acclimated to the players around you again," Haslett said. "And then, obviously, the conditioning, because you just haven't done enough football."
Even so, Haslett thinks both players can be ready for the season opener with as little as three or four days of practice — as long as they're right physically.
"But you'd have to keep an eye on them during the game to make sure about conditioning and everything else," Haslett said. "If it doesn't work out that way, I feel comfortable with Todd (Johnson) back there at safety, and also Ron (Bartell) being the starting corner."