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Youthful Rams try to tackle secondary
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Dec. 07 2005
As he stood in the hallway Wednesday at Rams Park, Jerametrius Butler was
greeted like a long, lost friend.
"J.B.!" shouted one Rams player as he walked by.
"Are you going to be back next week?" another said.
If only that were true, the Rams must think.
Butler, who either led or shared the Rams' interception lead the past two
seasons, was placed on the injured reserve list Aug. 30 following a
season-ending knee injury that required surgery. During his rehab, he hasn't
been nearly as visible around Rams Park.
Suffice it to say, Butler has been missed in the St. Louis secondary. With
everything else that has been swirling around the team this season, it's easy
enough to overlook Butler's absence and the impact it has had on the defense.
While free safety was up for grabs entering training camp, the Rams figured the
three other spots in the secondary would be manned by young veterans. But
Butler will miss all 16 games this season. The other starting corner, Travis
Fisher, has missed four of the past five games with a groin injury. He is still
getting medical opinions on the status of the injury, an indication that it
might be season-ending.
At strong safety, Adam Archuleta missed the past two games with a concussion,
although it looks like he will be back in the lineup Sunday in Minnesota.
Playing in their place have been lots of rookies and inexperienced non-rookies
making lots of mistakes and missing lots of tackles.
"Right now, they're learning, but it's tough because we're not winning right
now," Butler said. "We're putting people in situations where they're not used
to playing. Lots of young guys. They've got to step up, but there isn't anybody
stepping up. So it's kind of hard to watch."
Butler, whose rehab is progressing on schedule, attended home games at the
Edward Jones Dome early in the season. But he said it was too tough to watch on
the sidelines, helpless to do anything. So now he watches at home on television.
"But it's kind of hard to watch it anywhere," Butler said. "It's real hard. I'd
rather be out there."
Butler, 27, has tried to give the younger defensive backs pointers from time to
time. Along with Archuleta, who's also a 2001 draft pick, Butler ranks as the
most-tenured member of the St. Louis secondary.
"I kind of give them advice, but they've got to learn for themselves," Butler
said. "That's the way Aeneas (Williams) did with me. You can only tell a person
Interim head coach Joe Vitt is going what he can to speed the process. He had
the Rams in full shoulder pads for half of practice Wednesday, and plans the
same routine today. This late in the season, when the wear and tear builds for
each player, that's an unusual tactic. But one of the main reasons for wearing
pads is to work on tackling. The Rams also put renewed emphasis on tackling
form in individual drills Wednesday.
"The individual period (on defense) was nothing but tackling - the whole
individual period," Vitt said.
Nowhere has the Rams' sloppy tackling been more prevalent this season than in
the young secondary.
"We've been talking about being disciplined, and being accountable," free
safety Mike Furrey said. "Staying in your gaps and making the tackle when
you're supposed to make the tackle. When you look at the tape, it's coming down
to those things."
Rookie cornerback Ron Bartell, rookie safety Jerome Carter, and third-year
corner DeJuan Groce were the main culprits against Washington, missing tackles
that turned small gains into big plays.
"I missed two tackles I definitely should have made," Bartell said. "I was just
in a rush. ... You've just got to put yourself in the right position. I don't
know if it's a confidence thing. Simply put, you have to make the tackle; just
bring the guy down however way you can."
With Terry Fair apparently headed to the injured reserve list because of a neck
injury, the Rams made a roster move to help shore up the cornerback position.
Jamaican-born Dwight Anderson, aka Cool Runnings, was signed and practiced with
the team Wednesday.
Anderson appeared in 12 games last season as an undrafted rookie, and despite
some mistakes showed potential. In minicamp and training camp this season, he
was one of the Rams' most impressive corners.
Anderson angered coach Mike Martz when he forgot to get on the field during a
simulated scrimmage at Washington University. Shortly thereafter, he missed a
team curfew, and was released Aug. 9. Anderson hopes the surprise release will
make him a better man.
"You're going to learn from a situation when you get into it," Anderson said.
"Especially when it hurts you. It's how you deal with it. So it's my time to
deal with it now. Because either I'm going to do the same thing, or I'm not