Rams notebook: Injuries force juggling in secondary
By Jim Thomas
With cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and Trumaine Johnson (illness) missing practice again on Thursday, plus the absence of safety T.J. McDonald (fractured leg) for the next couple of months, the Rams have dwindling options in the secondary.
In the end Johnson probably will be OK for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. In a possible sign that he was feeling better, Johnson was able to watch most of practice Thursday after not watching at all Wednesday.
After Finnegan went down with his injury in the first half of the San Francisco game, Johnson played cornerback in the base defense, and Rodney McLeod moved from safety to cover the slot receiver as the nickel back.
If Finnegan can’t go Sunday against Jacksonville, the only other cornerback option on the 53-man roster is rookie Brandon McGee. But McGee has played only on special teams this season, and the coaching staff might not feel he’s ready to play defense.
In addition, McGee is banged up; he was limited in practice Thursday with what the team described as a thigh injury.
Once McLeod was moved to nickel back against the ***** that brought Matt Giordano off the bench to play safety. And when McDonald was injured in the second half, Darian Stewart, who has been bothered since the early days of camp with a hamstring injury, also came of the bench to help at safety.
“Those guys will do a fine job,” defensive coordinator Tim Walton said of Stewart and Giordano. “It just comes back to fundamental football. They have to come in, take things slow, do their job, look at the right things, and play assignment football. That’ll get you through the game reps that you haven’t had so far, and they’ll do that.”
Minus McDonald, either Stewart or Giordano starts at safety against Jacksonville.
Coach Jeff Fisher tried to look on the bright side when it came to the safety position.
“We actually have a chance to, I guess, put more experience in the secondary now with ‘Stew’ coming back and ‘Gio’ on different (packages) here and there,” Fisher said. “So we’ll be fine. Our numbers aren’t ideal, but we’ll get through it.”
Stewart started 13 games for the Rams in 2011; Giordano started 13 games last season for Oakland.
Besides Finnegan and Johnson, two more players did not practice Thursday: OT Rodger Saffold (knee) and DE Williams Hayes (knee). Neither player appears close to returning at this point.
Besides McGee, LB Will Witherspoon (hamstring) and a new addition to the injury report — DT Matt Conrath (concussion) — were listed as limited.
For Jacksonville, TE Mercedes Lewis (calf), S Dwight Lowery (concussion), DT Jeremy Mincey (concussion), LB Geno Hayes (hip), and CB Dwayne Gratz (ankle) were among those who did not practice Thursday. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said earlier in the week that Gratz, who has a high ankle sprain, won’t play Sunday.
With Witherspoon hobbled, the newly re-signed Jo-Lonn Dunbar is expected to start at his old outside linebacker spot against the Jaguars. Dunbar hasn’t missed a beat since returning to the practice field Tuesday following his four-game suspension for violating NFL rules on performance-enhancing substances.
“Yeah, he picked up right where he left off,” Fisher said. “Keep in mind, he played, he participated throughout camp and the preseason games. Any new wrinkles that have come since he’s been gone, he picked up right away.”
NO SUCH LUCK
As he stepped in front of the Rams backdrop for his usual post-practice media session, Fisher saw a tiny contingent — only six reporters and not a single television camera (except for the Rams’ in-house crew).
“I thought you guys would be down at the stadium,” Fisher said, referring to the baseball Cardinals’ opener in the National League division series.
Most were at Busch, except for those who didn’t have a choice.
• Sunday’s game against Jacksonville at the Edward Jones Dome will be televised locally by CBS on KMOV (Channel 4).
• Dunbar’s contract to re-sign with the Rams Tuesday is worth $650,000 over the remainder of the season. The deal also includes incentives tied to playing time