By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

What seemed like an act of career desperation six months ago may land Mike Furrey a spot in the starting lineup Monday against Indianapolis.

After playing his first two seasons with the Rams at wide receiver, Furrey was switched to safety this past offseason. In the NFL, such a radical switch usually is career suicide. But that doesn't appear to be the case here.

Furrey replaced Michael Hawthorne at free safety early in the second quarter Sunday against Seattle, and he finished with nine tackles according to coaches' review of game film.

"The ending has a big effect on how much fun it really is," Furrey said, referring to a 37-31 Rams loss. "But to finally get out there and just be able to get involved in a whole game situation was good for me."

With the exception of a few plays against Tennessee on Sept. 25, Furrey had been limited to special teams play this season. But with Hawthorne struggling against the Seahawks, Furrey got his first extended playing time on defense.

Near the end of the first quarter, he was told to get ready. And when the Rams' defense took the field for their first series of the second quarter, he was told to go in.

"I prepare myself to play and to start, and to understand what's going on," Furrey said. "My only goal when I get into those kinds of situations is to make sure that I react, and get around the ball. I was just trying to get involved in everything - run and pass. I guess it worked out like that."

Furrey certainly was active, and around the ball. However, the most noticeable flaw in his day came with 6 minutes 15 seconds to play in the third quarter. He had a chance to bring down Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander near the line of scrimmage but missed the tackle on what turned out to be an 18-yard touchdown run.

"It's a situation where there's no excuses," Furrey said. "I overran it. I should've made the tackle. That's my biggest regret of the game."

Even with that miscue, one team official said Furrey played "twice as good" as Hawthorne. Despite rampant rumors that Hawthorne would be released this week, he did not show up on the NFL's transaction wire Monday or Tuesday. Regardless, it seems likely that Furrey will start in place of Hawthorne, who, according to another team official, "made six huge mistakes" against Seattle. In fairness to Hawthorne, he is a career cornerback trying to play safety.

When interviewed Monday, Furrey said he knew nothing about his status on the depth chart.

"I'm coming in on Thursday," he said. "Practice Thursday."

Because of the Monday night game in Indy, the Rams' practice schedule has been pushed back one day. The team's first practice day doesn't come until Thursday. If Furrey is indeed in the starting lineup in the RCA Dome, he will become the fifth player to start opposite strong safety Adam Archuleta since the start of the 2004 season.

The Rams' search for safety help has reached epic - no, make that comic - proportions since Aeneas Williams' Hall of Fame-caliber career began breaking down because of age and injuries.

A parade of candidates best characterized as injury-plagued or long in the tooth has been brought into Rams Park since the start of the '04 season. The list includes Zach Bronson, Antuan Edwards, Tom Knight, Kwamie Lassiter, Justin Lucas and Tod McBride.

Last season, the Rams tried to call Jason Sehorn back for a second tour of duty with the club, only to have him fail his physical. Coach Mike Martz even toyed with the idea of moving linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to safety, but those plans never progressed past the, uh, "concept" stage.

Of course, there is one more alternative in rookie Oshiomogho Atogwe, a third-round draft pick from Stanford. But after making three mistakes on special teams in the opener against San Francisco, Atogwe hasn't even dressed for a game.

When asked Sunday about the possibility of Atogwe or rookie cornerback Ron Bartell seeing action in a tattered secondary, Martz replied: "If they were coming along good enough, they'd be playing right now. Let me just say this: It's been my experience as a head coach, if you play with four rookies on the defense that's generally not a good idea. So we're trying to keep this in that veteran mode as much as we can."

The Rams don't have a rookie among their current 11 starters on defense. But rookie safety Jerome Carter is a regular in their six-defensive back package. And cornerback Chris Johnson is the next closest thing to a rookie - he didn't play a regular-season game in his first two NFL seasons because of injury.

Then again, the 2001 Rams Super Bowl team started three rookies for at least part of that season: safety Adam Archuleta, linebacker Tommy Polley and defensive tackle Damione Lewis.