By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/23/2005

For stark evidence of just how banged-up the Rams' secondary is, consider this: Mike Furrey, a former wide receiver who has started exactly five games at free safety, might be the most experienced of the first-team defensive backs Sunday in Houston.

"That's OK," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "Mike's growing every week ... really embracing the role."

Granted, Furrey has been effective after supplanting the since-released Michael Hawthorne. Furrey tied his personal-best with nine tackles Sunday in a 38-28 loss to Arizona, and he's had four takeaways: a team-high three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

For the most part, though, he's been surrounded by veterans Adam Archuleta, Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce. Not this week. Archuleta (concussion) is out, Fisher (groin) was listed as doubtful and Groce (concussion) as questionable on Wednesday's injury report. Reserve safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (toe) also was questionable.

That leaves five other healthy defensive backs: rookie cornerback Ron Bartell, who started for Fisher last Sunday; rookie safety Jerome Carter, who will step in for Archuleta; cornerback Chris Johnson, who worked with the No. 1 unit in Groce's spot Wednesday; cornerback Corey Ivy, who probably would fill in for Johnson as the nickel back; and cornerback Terry Fair.

Neither Carter nor Johnson has made an NFL start, although Carter played 3 1/2 quarters Sunday when Archuleta went down after crashing into Groce while defending a pass. In something less than a glowing review, Vitt said Carter, a fourth-round draft pick from Florida State, "probably did more good things than bad things" vs. the Cardinals.

"I feel like I could've done a lot better in certain areas," said Carter, 5 feet 11 and 219 pounds. "I had two or three mental errors. But other than that, I think I played pretty good."

The understated Carter, 23, played down the significance of having a full week to get ready for his first start. "I prepare every day like I'm going to play, so it's really nothing new to me," he said.

Vitt, however, expects bigger and better things this Sunday. "He's a real conscientious kid, and he really wants to be good," Vitt said. "I suspect that he's going to have a better game this week. I'd be shocked if he doesn't."

A mid-game knockout

Archuleta and offensive lineman Blaine Saipaia were housed in neighboring rooms at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where both spent Sunday night for observation. Saipaia also suffered a concussion and will miss the Texans game.

Saipaia lost consciousness in a helmet-to-helmet collision with Arizona safety Aaron Francisco on a Rams kickoff return in the final minutes. Saipaia, who was removed from the field on a cart, acknowledged that he'd never absorbed such a shot.

"Not where I decided to take a nap on the field, no," he said. "(Francisco) just caught me at the right angle and put me out. ... I don't remember much of the play. I set the wedge, and the next thing I remember, I'm talking to the trainers."

Saipaia said he still was "a little groggy" and suffering periodic headaches. He won't play this week.

Ram-blings

The Rams are yielding a league-worst 30 points per game, which has them on pace to give up a franchise-record 480 for the season. The previous mark, 471, was established in 2000. ... The 6 yards rushing vs. Arizona was the second-lowest total in the Rams' 68-year history. On Oct. 11, 1942, the Cleveland Rams generated minus 29 yards in a 33-14 loss at Washington. ... Three of the area's five state football finalists worked out this week on the FieldTurf at the Rams Park indoor facility, Hazelwood Central (Class 6) on Tuesday, and Affton (Class 4) and Mary Institute-Country Day School (Class 3) on Wednesday.