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Rams' Bartell looks to rebound in 2010 ..
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Maybe Ron Bartell should've known 2009 wasn't going to be his year when he decided to re-sign with the Rams rather than accept a free-agent contract offer from New Orleans.
While the Saints marched to the Super Bowl championship, the Rams were compiling an NFL-worst 1-15 record during which Bartell limped through the least-satisfying season among his three as a starting cornerback.
"Last year was pretty tough as a team and for me personally, being injured and not playing as well as I'd hoped," Bartell said. "But it's a new season, so we have new opportunities. And I'm looking forward to it."
The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Bartell, 28, was a second-round draft pick (No. 50 overall) out of Howard, a NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) program. He spent his first two pro seasons providing depth in the secondary, both at cornerback and safety.
Bartell started 12 games in 2007, recording a career-high 76 tackles, and all 16 games in 2008, when he snagged three interceptions.
The Rams rewarded him with a four-year deal that included $13.6 million in guaranteed money and, with incentives, could top out at $28 million. That contract, ironically, played a role in Bartell's subpar performance in 2009.
A thigh injury early in the season slowed Bartell, but he believed that he could play through it. "I felt like I could get by," Bartell said. "But at my position you don't want to just get by. You could do more harm than good."
Part of his determination to stay in the lineup, Bartell acknowledged, was rooted in his new contract.
"I think I would be lying if I said it wasn't," he said. "I'm one of those guys who always wants to prove his worth. I never want to be looked at as a guy who got paid and just decided to coast. So that did play a factor in the back of my mind."
Instead of taking a couple of weeks off and allowing the muscle to heal, Bartell soldiered on. That only worsened the injury — and his performance, he conceded.
"I think any player would tell you when you're dinged up and you're not a hundred percent, it works on you a little bit," coach Steve Spagnuolo said.
"I wish I would've handled it differently," Bartell said. "I'd never really been injured before in the NFL ... where I needed to sit and shut it down. Looking back on it, I probably should've done that. ... Sometimes you've got to put your ego to the side and do what's best for the team."
The Rams' bye week came at the midpoint of the schedule, and the thigh finally began to heal.
"After the bye week, I started getting a little bit healthy, and toward the end of the season, I felt like my old self," Bartell said. "But it was that one stretch of four or five weeks where I could barely run. It was tough."
It made him long for 2010 and a shot at redemption.
"I thought people kind of overlooked me coming into last season. I had a lot of expectations, especially with the season I had before," Bartell said. "Now I'm kind of back to being overlooked again."
Bartell has high hopes for the secondary. "Just another year in the system for the guys that already had been here is going to be huge, especially for me personally. I can see a big difference, just from a couple of OTAs, from this year to last year."
One difference that Bartell assures will occur in 2010 has to do with interceptions. Or, the lack thereof. The Rams picked off eight passes last year — but none by a cornerback, a staggering statistic in today's pass-happy NFL.
"You had to remind me," Bartell said, chuckling. "We had opportunities. I go back and watch last year's film all the time. But ... it's over with. That season's so far behind us. We're just looking forward to this year."
After a pause, he added, "And I promise you that won't happen again."
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