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Two Years Removed from Injury: Fletcher Feeling Fine

Posted Aug 29, 2011

 

It is often said that a football player coming back from an injury such as a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament, it takes at least two years to get back to full speed.

When Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher suffered that injury (plus a tear in his LCL), some thought it was gruesome enough that he would never play football again.

That disastrous injury cut Fletcher’s rookie season short on Oct. 25, 2009. Hit the fast forward button to Monday and Fletcher is not only still playing, he’s playing at a level that has him poised for a breakout season starting opposite veteran Ron Bartell.

Compared to where Fletcher was even one year removed from the surgeries that followed the injury, it’s night and day.

“I was still feeling my way through it, still trying to get used to playing ball after the surgery,” Fletcher said. “That’s what I was dealing with at this time last year. Now, a year later I am feeling so much better.”

Fletcher defied the odds simply by being able to practice in training camp last year when many believed he at best would be able to join the team midseason. But Fletcher proved tougher and more durable than those people expected and made it through the preseason and then played in every game during the regular season.

Despite not having the opportunity to work with the team’s training staff and get a full offseason at the facility, Fletcher worked diligently to stay up to speed.

Now, he’s feeling better than ever.

“You definitely get all your strength back in your leg and all of your explosiveness and lateral movement is all back from where it was before,” Fletcher said. “I am really ready to go out and play hard and hopefully make plays.”

Those plays seemed to come in flashes last year when Fletcher led the team in interceptions with four and finished third on the team with 91 tackles and second on the team with 12 passes defended.

It was the type of performance that only serves to tantalize the coaching staff at what Fletcher can accomplish with a full season and two healthy knees under his belt.

“I expect him to be a much better player,” defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “Two things happened to Bradley. Number one, last year was his freshman year. I call it his freshman year, he got hurt and he didn’t have the ability to get all that playing time behind him in year one because he had the knee injury. And then, the type of knee injury he had, a lot of the so called experts say it takes you two years before you are really back to 100 percent. So that’s the other factor. So now he’s had a whole year of experience behind him, the knee is in great shape, he’s worked hard, so he really should be able to take the next step for us.”

What that next step is will be up to how far Fletcher goes to make it happen. The soft-spoken Fletcher isn’t brash or arrogant and is intensely focused solely on playing football.

Fletcher’s toughness in playing through pain and bouncing back from the injury last year earned him the team’s Ed Block Courage Award. In proving he could handle the rigors of a NFL season and make big plays for the defense in the process, Fletcher showed that his mind is every bit as strong as his knee.

“You can’t say enough about the competitiveness of a player like that,” cornerbacks coach Clayton Lopez said. “I think being two years out from his injury, I think he is closer to where he needs to be. I think he is an extremely confident guy. I don’t think his confidence ever left. If it was up to him he would probably have played a month after his surgery. But you can’t say enough good things about a guy like that.”

Fletcher’s ascent to the top of depth chart is no surprise considering his combination of size and speed. At 6 foot, 198 pounds with long arms, Fletcher fits the mold of the type of big, physical press cornerback that Flajole and coach Steve Spagnuolo prefer.

In signing veteran Al Harris as a free agent, the Rams have brought in yet another mentor who figures to help get the absolute best out of Fletcher this season.

“I think he does a great job, the football knowledge is there,” Harris said. “It just takes a guy who has done it over and over and over maybe saying it a little different so wherever I can help him, I am here to help him.”

ROSTER MOVES: The Rams continued to move toward getting to the required 80 players by Tuesday as they made a few more roster moves on Monday.

Spagnuolo announced the release of veteran linebacker Na’il Diggs, who signed with the Rams last offseason and started the first 12 games of the year on the strong side.

Diggs suffered a pectoral injury late in the season at Arizona and it cut his season short. In returning from that injury, Diggs started the first two games of this preseason before free agent signee Brady Poppinga replaced him last week against Kansas City.

It was not an easy move for Spagnuolo, who grew fond of Diggs for his professional approach and leadership in the locker room.

“They all hurt because those are hard discussions but Na’il Diggs is one of the classiest individuals,” Spagnuolo said. “That was a hard move but we do wish him well. I appreciate everything he has done here. He’s a great man.”

The idea behind making the move now was to give Diggs a chance to catch on elsewhere. But it certainly says a lot about how far the team has come and the improved depth at linebacker that the move was made.

“(He) and I had talked over the last couple days very openly because I respect him so much,” Spagnuolo said. “I just thought, if it might head that way at the end of the week, I felt we owed it to him to give him the option of whether he wanted to do it now or not. And that’s what we talked about this morning and we thought that gives him an opportunity with maybe 31 other teams.”

The Rams released tight end Schuylar Oordt and receivers Jared Jenkins and Joe West on Sunday and also let go of defensive lineman Kenneth Charles and defensive back John Dempsey on Monday.

Spagnuolo also said that defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo is likely to go on injured reserve with a back injury.

The Rams started with 89 players on the roster and would have two more moves to make by Tuesday’s deadline to get to the required 80 players.

SAFETY SHUFFLE: Darian Stewart started Friday night’s game against Kansas City at strong safety next to Quintin Mikell.

After practicing all week with the first team, Stewart got his first with the defense and fared well according to Spagnuolo.

“There were a couple mistakes in there, but I think every time he makes one, it’s one less I think we’re hopefully going to get down the road,” Spagnuolo said. “I thought him and Quintin worked well together. There was one communication problem that I remember vividly, but I think they’ll get that ironed out.”

Craig Dahl was back with the first team at Monday’s practice but the Rams are likely to continue to work both of them in leading up to the regular season opener.

INJURY REPORT: With a short week this week before the preseason finale in Jacksonville, the Rams were cautious with a number of players in Monday’s practice.

Cudjo, defensive tackle Fred Robbins (back) cornerback Dionte Dinkins (ankle) and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (calf) did not practice again.

Joining them on the sideline was linebacker James Laurinaitis (pectoral), center Drew Miller (ankle), running back Keith Toston (thigh) and Harris (knee).
Rookie cornerback Mikail Baker, who has been battling a hamstring issue, tried to practice but couldn’t finish and had to leave early.

 

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