By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thursday, Sep. 14 2006

Opening Day 2006 went a whole lot better than Opening Day 2005 for Rams free
safety Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe. "I would say," he said with a wry smile.

Atogwe, a third-round draft choice, kicked off his rookie season by committing
a couple of gaffes on special teams in a 28-25 loss in San Francisco. He served
penance by spending the next four games on the inactive list.

On Sunday, Atogwe made his first NFL start and collected nine tackles, tying
linebacker Will Witherspoon for the team high, in the Rams' 18-10 upset of the
Denver Broncos.

"He prepared and practiced well, and he played like he practiced," coach Scott
Linehan said. "It shows you that's he quite a mature kid, (even) without the
experience."

Michael Hawthorne was released after starting the first five games at free
safety last year; he no longer is in the league. Mike Furrey, a converted wide
receiver, took over for the last 11 contests; cut after the season, he's back
at receiver in Detroit.

Meanwhile, Atogwe wallowed, playing sparingly from scrimmage. The 5-foot-11,
210-pound Stanford product did make two key plays last season: a sack in
overtime in a comeback win at Houston, and a fourth-quarter interception that
led to a field goal in a 10-point victory at Dallas.

Linehan said he turned over the first-team job to Atogwe based on his college
résumé.

"He was drafted at the slot he was because he has talent," Linehan said. "I
remember sitting in draft meetings last year in Miami and people talking and
raving about O.J. (It was) no secret that he had the ability to be a heck of a
safety in this league. ...

"We just needed to let him get his feet wet. We just basically put him in there
(in the spring). He started at one level and just improved every day."

Atogwe, 25, spends about as much time in the film room as he does on the
practice field. He's learning to make the calls for defensive adjustments, a
vital role for a free safety.

"The better you get at recognizing what the offense is doing, you can
anticipate what checks you have to make," he said. "You're always staying one
step ahead of them."

Romberg's ready

Not only did Atogwe play against the newest Ram -- Brett Romberg -- in high
school, the two also were teammates on an all-star team in their hometown of
Windsor, Ontario. "Small world," Atogwe said.

Romberg, 6-2 and 298 pounds, was signed Tuesday off Jacksonville's practice
squad to provide depth at center. He replaces longtime starter Andy McCollum,
who suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday, on the 53-man roster.

"I'm excited. It's a good opportunity," said Romberg, who won the Rimington
Award as the nation's top center as a senior at Miami (Fla.). "Obviously this
team had a really good win on Sunday, looked very impressive."

Romberg, 26, was with the Jaguars for three seasons but played in just one
regular-season game. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, who held the same
position in Jacksonville, recommended him after McCollum went down.

"Brett knows our offensive line calls, so his learning curve is going to be
pretty quick," Linehan said. "It gives us some insurance there."

Ram-blings

Although he was listed as questionable on Wednesday's injury report, nose
tackle Jimmy Kennedy is determined to suit up Sunday in San Francisco, just six
days after surgery on his broken right hand. Kennedy was injured on the first
series vs. Denver. ... Linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa (foot) and Jamal Brooks
(knee) also were questionable. Neither practiced Wednesday. ... After the
Jaguars signed Montavious Stanley off the practice squad, the Rams brought back
defensive tackle Tim Sandidge to fill the open spot. Sandidge, an undrafted
rookie out of Virginia Tech, was with the team in training camp before being
released.