By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch

Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who was back at practice Friday, emphasized that it would take a lot more than an elbow infection to sideline him for Sunday's key NFC West contest at Seattle.

"It wasn't going to stop me from playing this weekend," he said. "It's too big of a game."

Coach Mike Martz indicated Thursday that Tinoisamoa would be hospitalized overnight for treatment, but that wasn't necessary.

"They just gave him some IVs here" at Rams Park, Martz said, "and he came in this morning and was really much, much, much better. So, there's not a problem. We're relieved, of course."

Fellow linebacker Robert Thomas, who's been nursing a sore ankle, also returned to the field Friday and will start Sunday.

Groce finally healthy:

After recovering from a matching set of sprained knees - he injured his left in training camp and his right three weeks ago vs. Atlanta - cornerback DeJuan Groce finally is healthy again.

"I feel a lot better," Groce said. "I've been pushing it more this week. I'm getting my confidence back and I'm able to not think about (the injuries) and just play."

Martz saw enough progress that he returned Groce to the No. 1 spot at right corner, where he started the first two games of the season. Kevin Garrett started alongside left corner Jerametrius Butler last Sunday in San Francisco.

"Homecoming" for Cleeland:

Increasingly, retirement was looking like an attractive option for Rams tight end Cam Cleeland during the offseason. The custom home design and construction business that he'd started with his brother-in-law in the Seattle area was taking off, plus nobody was dangling the multi-year contract that Cleeland sought.

"I definitely thought about retiring," said Cleeland, 29. "I've always been good at building and design. We've done four or five houses now, and just finished my own personal house. It's a lot of fun. . . .

"But as long as football is working out and I get the opportunity, I'll take advantage of it."

The Rams' trip to the Pacific Northwest for Sunday's game against the Seahawks is a welcome journey for Cleeland, who holds a sociology degree from the University of Washington and lives in Mount Vernon, about an hour's drive north of Seattle. "I'll have a bunch of family and friends there," he said. "It'll be a little homecoming."

Cleeland decided in March to accept the Rams' one-year offer. "You want to do something you love to do and come into work every day and like to do it," he said. "Our careers are short. You just hope to enjoy it."

He said that he'd like to play "a few more years" but added that he probably wouldn't sign another one-year deal. "It's not worth it for me and my family to be doing that anymore," Cleeland said. "You just have no job security and you're moving all the time. It just gets harder and harder every year."

Stopping the run:

On the heels of losses to Atlanta and New Orleans in which it yielded averages of 29.5 points and 439 yards, the Rams' defense tightened considerably vs. the *****. It gave up just 82 yards in the first half, when the Rams bolted to a 24-0 lead, and 332 overall in the 24-14 victory.

"We've been getting better each week," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "And that's our goal. It's a long season, and if we limit our mistakes and stop the run first, then the rest will follow."

The Falcons, led by quarterback Michael Vick, shredded the Rams for 242 rushing yards, and the Saints racked up 149, with journeyman back Aaron Stecker collecting a career- high 106. The ***** mustered only 58 yards on the ground.