Rams cornerback Fisher battles back from injuries
By Bill Coats

Of the Post-Dispatch

The look of concern on Rams cornerback Travis Fisher's face after the Dolphins game two weeks ago was palpable. His right forearm was screaming at him, and he feared the worst.

"It was aching real bad, and I thought I had broken it again," Fisher said. An MRI the next day alleviated his concern. "That's over, all the arm stuff," Fisher declared this past week. "I'm just trying to go out and have a big game."

Fisher is a third-year pro out of Central Florida who started 26 of the 29 games in which he appeared in his first two NFL seasons. He was hurt in an exhibition game Aug. 23 in Kansas City, and a plate was inserted during surgery a few days later. Coach Mike Martz guessed that Fisher was done for the season.

"It's a three- to four-month deal," a forlorn Martz said at the time.

But almost two months to the day after the injury, Fisher was back on the field in Miami. He didn't have his best day: He missed a tackle on the Dolphins' first touchdown - an 8-yard run by Sammy Morris - and slipped to the ground on their last - a 71-yard catch and run by wide receiver Chris Chambers - in the Rams' 31-14 defeat.

Acknowledging that he was a bit rusty after the down time, Fisher said: "I felt like I could go out there and make some plays. I made a couple, but then I missed a couple. I've been working hard in practice on the things I messed up in that game."

Martz absorbed some of the blame for not recognizing that Fisher wasn't ready for a full workload.

"I was remiss in not spelling him with DeJuan Groce; that's a coaching error on my part," Martz said. "He had conditioned really well, but still, you're not back to where you need to be. He's there now."

When fit, the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Fisher is "absolutely a top-flight corner," Martz said. "I really believe he is at that level and will continue to play at that level."

Fisher, 25, intercepted four passes last year, tying for the team high with fellow corner Jerametrius Butler, linebacker Tommy Polley and safeties Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams. The Rams' 46 takeaways topped the league.

This year, though, they've come up with just six. Plus, the Rams rank 28th in the 32-team NFL in total defense and are 23rd vs. the pass. Those numbers chronicle significant downturns from 2003, when they finished 16th in total defense and 12th in pass defense.

Significant defensive improvement Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (6-1) certainly would be a boon for the Rams (4-3). A sudden and dramatic turnaround probably isn't a realistic goal. But with the secondary healthy for the first time this season, perhaps substantial advancement finally is possible.

"Any time you can establish a continuity and get to know the guys and get confident with them, that's big," Archuleta said. "We've just got to start to establish a comfort zone and start to get some games under our belts together as a corps."

Archuleta had been slowed by a balky back and a sore hamstring; Groce, who started four games in Fisher's absence, has fought off knee and shoulder injuries; rookie corner Dwight Anderson has overcome a shoulder problem; and though he limped through training camp with ankle and hamstring dings, Butler has been in the lineup each week. After a bye week, Fisher - a rugged defender who plays the right side and is particularly adept at jamming wideouts at the line of scrimmage - is fully healed, too.

"He's a tough guy, a real physical corner," Archuleta said.

Fisher said that after two solid seasons, the injury was "a setback. I think any time you break a bone, have to miss a lot of games, and come back, it's going to be hard. But I'm getting there. ... The toughest part right now is just getting back into the game. The mind-set is there; it's just the fundamentals."

No one's happier to see Fisher hale and hearty than Butler, who mans the left side.

"Every game, I've had a different corner on the opposite side of me," Butler said.

In addition to Groce, Williams and Kevin Garrett each started a game at cornerback.

"It really doesn't matter who's out there, as long as we get the job done," Butler emphasized. "But I played a whole year with Travis, and I got used to seeing him on the opposite side of me, (No.) 22 over there. So it's nice to have him back."