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D-back day: Ron Bartell

Tired of the Steven Jackson holdout situation and, more recently, tired of wondering whether or not Bulger has some kind of sack-induced PTSD that's going to keep fans wondering if graybeard Trent Green should be starting, it's as good a day as any to think about something else. For some reason, after a long delay between waking up and the first cup of coffee, I settled on the Rams defensive backs. The defense looks like it could be a real bright spot for this year's team. Hell, if the offense can keep them off the field for something less than 45 minutes, they have the potential to steal a game or two. With Leonard Little looking spry and svelte and two recent draft's worth of first round picks, the defensive line has garnered most of the spotlight. And that's fine. Their work up front ought to give the backfield defenders a real boost. So here's a little time for those guys in the mighty TST spotlight, a pedestal so bright it could well up their value beyond the reach of this humble mid-market team.

The bane of Ron Bartell's existence on the field has always been his inconsistency. From play to play, fans and coaches never knew which Bartell would make an appearance, the gifted corner able to smother an opposing wide receiver or the bumbling traffic cone.

A second round pick from 2005, Bartell started seven games at CB filling in for Travis Fisher who broke his arm that season, alongside such notables as DeJuan Groce.  He had 32 tackles and 1 forced fumble as part of a Rams defense that ranked in the bottom fifth of the league in all categories. Bartell had a more limited role with the 2006 team, working as the third corner. The Rams' defensive backfield was still a mess that season, but things started to solidify with the addition of Fakhir Brown and an impressive rookie debut from first round pick Tye HIll (more on him later). Bartell showed some ball skills that year, nabbing three INTs, matching teammates Atogwe, Brown and Hill, and made 25 tackles.

Last season, starting at various times for a suspended Fakhir Brown and an injured Tye Hill, Bartell made 12 starts. Bartell flashed that maddening inconsistency, but I really felt like he improved as the season went on and he got more playing time. Bartell even played a little safety last season. He finished the year with 63 tackles, 2 INTS, and a sack.

So far this summer, Bartell's seen plenty of playing time filling in for the injured Fakhir Brown (rotator cuff tear), and the possibility of Bartell starting in place of Brown to open the season looms. He's impressed through camp, shaking off some early inconsistency. Against the Chargers on Saturday, Bartell tied for the team lead with 4 tackles and had a pass defense as well, pleasing coaches and pundits alike.

Most of Bartell's progress can be attributed to experience and improved coaching since Bartell started with the Rams in 2005. Don't discount the motivation that comes from playing in the last year of a contract though. Bartell will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.