Young Rams secondary sees growth
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It was hardly a stellar year for the Rams' defense. Still, cause for optimism exists in at least one area.
"I think we have a pretty good secondary returning next year," cornerback-safety Ron Bartell said after Sunday's 41-21 season-ending victory at Minnesota. "You've got the veteran guys like Corey (Chavous) and Fakhir Brown. And I think it's really good that us young guys were able to get some experience this year."
The "young guys" include Bartell, 24; cornerback Tye Hill, 24; safety Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe, 25; and safety Jerome Carter, 24. Hill was the team's first-round draft pick last April; Bartell (second round), Atogwe (third) and Carter (fourth) were 2005 draftees who played sparingly as rookies.
Brown, a seven-year veteran, was a first-team cornerback, while Chavous, in his ninth season, and Atogwe were the starting safeties. Bartell and Carter — before a late-season ankle injury limited him — were deployed as extra backs in passing situations.
Hill started nine games — one when the Rams opened with five defensive backs, two when Brown was out with an ankle injury and the last six after Travis Fisher broke his arm Nov. 12 at Seattle.
"To be honest with you, I think I had a rookie year: a lot of good and a lot of bad," Hill said. "The important thing is, I kept growing every game, and I started to make a few plays here and there. This year was really a building process for me. This was my foundation year. I'm looking to build off this year to next year."
That group figures to form the core of the secondary next year and beyond, as the youngsters continue to emerge. Jerametrius Butler, who fell out of favor with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and suited up for only seven games, probably won't return. Fisher's status is unclear.
Bartell picked off two passes against the Vikings, returning the first for a 38-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The second set up a touchdown plus tied him for the team lead (three) with Atogwe, Brown and Hill. Bartell snagged his first career interception just two weeks earlier at Oakland.
"I think this group of young defensive backs is outstanding," said Chavous, who serves as a mentor for them. "And then when you have a guy like Fakhir Brown ... it's something that might go unnoticed, but it's not unnoticed by anybody in this locker room. He's one of the best corners in the league."
The Rams wound up No. 23 in the 32-team NFL in total defense. They were 31st against the run but eighth vs. the pass. That standing is skewed somewhat because with teams generally having success on the ground, they rarely needed to rely on the pass.
The Rams faced 28.2 pass attempts per game, the third-lowest average in the league. Still, they permitted opponents to complete 59.0 percent of those passes, a respectable 12th.
"We're only getting better from here," Atogwe promised. "We're not the type of individuals who are going to rest on what we've done this year. We're going to continue to push each other, challenge each other, and grow from this.
"So, when we come back next year, our goal is going to be the best secondary in the league."
Re: Young Rams secondary sees growth
I gotta say that I like the youth of the secondary, but as dreadful as the run defense was the jury is still out on the secondary imho. Yet - I am hopeful that the secondary is still half as good as #8.
My observations is that the secondary made average quarterbacks look like Pro Bowlers. Will have to wait until 2007- still - I am already pumped!