Spagnuolo Feels Secondary's Pain

It's like 2003, but worse, for Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo as he tries to piece together a secondary to face the "scary good" Aaron Rodgers-led Packers passing attack.

When NFL offenses practice, it is often said that quarterbacks are throwing "on air" because of the often going-through-the-motions defense that is played.

As the St. Louis Rams prepare to play the Green Bay Packers this week, it must look at times as if quarterback Aaron Rodgers is throwing on air in games.

So it was that coach Steve Spagnuolo was asked how scary the Green Bay offense is, especially in light of the serious cornerback issues the Rams are facing.

"They're scary good," Spagnuolo admitted. "That's a good word; they're scary good. But we've got players out here, too. We've got to go play the game. We've got to find a way to slow them down and see if we can't have one more point than they do."

That will obviously be a tall order.

Brian Jackson became the team's fifth cornerback and third signed since the season began when he was added this week. The other two are Josh Gordy and Rod Hood. Gordy was with the Packers as a rookie last season, and was waived in September at the cutdown to 53 players.

Spagnuolo went through something similar when he was the defensive backs coach for Philadelphia in 2003. Early that season, the Eagles lost safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Brian Taylor for nine games and cornerback Troy Vincent for three. Still, the Eagles recovered from an 0-2 start and, with the defensive back corps intact again, advanced to the NFC Championship Game where they lost to Carolina, 14-3.

Still, there are some major differences. While Dawkins, Taylor and Vincent returned, Fletcher, Ron Bartell and Jerome Murphy are done for the season after playing a total of five games. Plus, that 2003 season was the last one on both Taylor and Vincent's contracts, and there were no plans to re-sign them. So, the Eagles had prepared for their departures by selecting Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the 2002 draft. Brown started for Taylor that year and Brown for Vincent. Clinton Hart, an undrafted free agent signed in 2002, replaced Dawkins.

This time, the Eagles are replacing guys on the fly, with the just-signed Jackson expected to play against the Packers.

"He is a big guy, long-armed, defensive back," Spagnuolo said of Jackson. "He was a playmaker in college. I know he's been a safety, corner, kind of like what Ron Bartell did early in his career. So, kind of out of that mold.

"Now, he's got a long way to go. Certainly, he's got to learn our scheme and our system, but we like some things that he does."

Asked how he sees himself, Jackson said, "I am a corner, naturally a corner but it's a blessing to be able to play both. I played a preseason game with the Giants at safety and it wasn't that bad so it comes down to what you are capable of doing and I just happen to be capable of doing both."

Al Harris is also a former Packer, and was signed as a free agent by the Rams after the lockout ended. He has played about one-third of the plays in the first four games, but will likely be called upon more now that both opening-day starters, Bartell and Bradley Fletcher, are out for the season.

Asked if Harris will start, Spagnuolo said, "I'm not sure how that will iron out right now. He lined up with the 1s (Monday), but we want to take a look at everybody we have. Rod (Hood) and Al are going to have to play some football for us, otherwise we won't have enough. Justin King he's been a warrior because he has been out there for everything, nickel and corner. So we'll see what happens."

Hood, who was signed on Sept. 27 and was inactive for the Oct. 2 game against Washington, said he is also prepared to play. He stayed around during the bye to continue trying to master the defense.

"I stayed the whole weekend, just trying to get myself in the playbook as much as possible," he said. "That's what I'm here for. I ain't got no leisure time. I'm here to work. I'm just trying to get the game plan and learn as much as I can and be ready to go on Sunday.

"It's unfortunate what happened to Fletch, but it's time for some guys to step up."

Spagnuolo expects that to happen.

"Rod's picked it up pretty quick," the coach said. "He actually stayed around here quite a bit, too. Josh doesn't have quite as much experience as Rod, but Josh has been here a little bit longer, so he has a better feel for it. So somewhere in there we're going to have to find us two corners, obviously, to play the base package and then three of them when you move Justin inside.

"Another one to play in any kind of nickel or dime package. We've got to find ways to be productive as a defense. It's not just about one position or two positions, it's a whole defense. As 11 guys we've all got to step it up and play better."

Hood believes there's no reason why he can't go out and make plays this week.

"I've been playing the game for nine years, I mean, professionally," he said. "Skill level always has been there. I think when you get to this level, and you've been playing for a while, the skill is there. It's just all about understanding and recognizing the scheme."

Hood also said he doesn't expect the coaches to scale back anything.

"It's all about communication," he said. "And being aggressive."

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