Rams load up at safety position
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Apr. 24 2005

It will be several months before it's known if the Rams have enough quality
players at safety. But the Rams did their best over the weekend to work on
their quantity.

After selecting Ronald Bartell of Howard and Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe of
Stanford on Saturday in the NFL draft, the Rams put a capper on their safety
search by adding Florida State's hard-hitting Jerome Carter in the fourth round
Sunday.

Bartell is a cornerback-safety 'tweener, who has played both positions in
college and will be tried first at cornerback with the Rams. Atogwe and Carter,
meanwhile, were targeted by the Rams at safety after the team was unable to
trade up for Georgia's Thomas Davis in the first round Saturday.

Houston, at No. 13 overall, wanted a second-round pick from the Rams to move
down to the Rams' No. 19 overall position on Saturday. That was too steep a
price for the Rams, who stood fast at No. 19, taking Florida State offensive
tackle Alex Barron. That helped the offensive line, obviously, but kept the
Rams on the hunt for safety help in rounds 2-4.

Carter, a strong safety, was the first of seven players drafted by the Rams on
Sunday.

"He's really a favorite," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "This is a big hitter. A
terrific (special) teams player. But he's an excellent tackler."

At 5-11, 219 pounds, Carter is a three-year starter for the Seminoles with a
reputation for tough, intense play.

"You talk about a kid who will jack you up," said one veteran NFC scout. "The
kid from Florida State (Carter) will hit you like a Mack truck."

Rams secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer didn't disagree with that assessment.

"He's very, very tough, very aggressive against the run," Schottenheimer said.
"And that's probably what he does best. ... Now, his temperament may be that
he's a little too aggressive. But we'll have to filter that and make sure he's
reading the right things, and bring him along that way."

Nonetheless, the Rams think Carter will be able to operate effectively enough
in space, particularly after watching him run at the NFL scouting combine and
at campus workouts.

"You look at the speed that he had at the combine - sub 4.5 (seconds),"
Schottenheimer said. "He can play in space. So, I really don't think that he
has any limitations, whether it be (against the) run or pass."

If nothing else, Carter should be an effective special teams player as a
rookie.

On paper, Atogwe is a more well-rounded player who is capable of competing for
a starting job right away. In the view of the Rams' personnel department,
Atogwe was every bit as good as Oklahoma's Brodney Pool, who was taken by
Cleveland with the second pick of the second round.

Atogwe has the range and speed to play free safety, a spot the Rams have had
trouble filling since the days of Keith Lyle.

"I love the way (Atogwe) plays the game," Schottenheimer said. "He's a bright
kid. Great enthusiasm. ... Has a great instinct for the ball. Has good ball
skills."

Entering the free agency period, the Rams had only one safety on their roster,
Adam Archuleta. But after signing free agents Michael Stone and Michael
Hawthorne, and drafting Atogwe and Carter - with Bartell possibly in the mix as
well - the Rams suddenly have options. They need two or three of those players
to click, along with Archuleta, at the safety position.


Archuleta progresses

Archuleta, who finished last season with a herniated disc in his back, has yet
to appear for the team's offseason conditioning program. Martz says Archuleta
has been alternating between weekend therapy sessions in California and weekday
conditioning work at his home in the Phoenix area.

"He's doing very well," Martz said. "He has just started to run out there. ...
He's gradually starting to pick up his workout. He's not there yet, but I think
he will be within a month or so. So I think we'll have him by the June
minicamp, but I wouldn't swear by it."


Changing gears

Martz revealed Sunday a surprising new entry in the safety derby: former wide
receiver Mike Furrey.

Furrey, the team's No. 6 wide receiver a year ago, has been switched to the
free safety position.

"He's very excited about it," Martz said. "He's up to about 200 pounds right
now (from 185). He played corner, I guess, in the (Arena) league, quite a bit.
He's a guy that obviously is going to play the ball very well. He judges the
ball very well."

Citing Furrey's work as a wedge-buster on special teams, Martz said, "A guy
that's this aggressive and this tenacious on special teams, you've got to think
that would carry over somewhat to defense. We'll just see how this goes."