Problems at safety have garnered most of the attention in the defensive backfield, but the search for a third corner has been anything but a secondary concern. The Rams struggled through most of the 2004 season to find a third corner for their nickel package, and opposing quarterbacks frequently exploited that weakness. Holdovers DeJuan Groce, Kevin Garrett, and Dwight Anderson will face competition from free-agent pickups Michael Hawthorne and Michael Stone, as well as draft pick Ronald Bartell for the nickel back job. Hawthorne, Stone and Bartell all have the size to handle bigger receivers -- something that has been lacking in the Rams' secondary in recent seasons. However, Groce shouldn't be eliminated from the equation. He has good ball instincts, but must stay healthy. . . .

Don't be surprised if seventh-round draft pick Madison Hedge**** challenges incumbent Joey Goodspeed for the starting fullback job. Hedge**** is about 20 pounds heavier than Goodspeed at 266 pounds, and even with that size, was very effective blocking in space in college. Hedge**** doesn't pack the wallop of former Rams FB James Hodgins, but does more than get in the way and stays on blocks. He is particularly effective at tracking LBs and making quick adjustments around the hole.


SCOUTING REPORT: LB Pisa Tinoisamoa "tenure" as a strong safety was shortlived, and it's a good thing. He's a natural weakside linebacker who should flourish in an LB corps bolstered by the addition of free agents Dexter Coakley and Chris Clairborne. Early in the offseason, Coach Mike Martz announced he was switching Tinoisamoa to the secondary to help the team's beleaguered safety corps. But Tinoisamoa expressed some reservations about the switch, and Martz changed his mind. Speed, instincts, and toughness all serve Tinoisamoa well at OLB. He played most of the season with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Even though Tinoisamoa's trademark is his pursuit and sideline-to-sideline speed, he isn't shy about taking on lead blockers in the hole. Tinoisamoa still gets in trouble occasionally by overpursuing, and his coverage skills still need polishing. But continued development and an injury-free campaign could have him playing at a Pro Bowl level in '05.


INSIDE DISH: Despite a smooth offseason in which the Rams addressed needs at linebacker, safety, and offensive tackle, the front office remains in flux. President of football operations Jay Zygmunt has been working on a month-to-month basis since his contract expired at the end of 2004, and general manager Charley Armey's contract expires at the end of '05. Zygmunt and coach Mike Martz haven't always worked well together, and sooner or later, team president John Shaw may have to make a commitment to one or the other.


CORNERBACKS ANALYSIS: GRADE: C Jerametrius Butler has developed into an above-average cover corner, but Travis Fisher must avoid injury and a third corner must be developed.