Cornerback Ron Bartell #24 of the St. Louis Rams sets for play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers October 24, 2010 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Of all weeks for the St. Louis Rams to be short-handed in the secondary, this could be the worst.

The Rams will likely face the New Orleans Saints’ potent offense to end a three-game road stretch without Ron Bartell, their top coverage cornerback. Bartell has a stinger in his neck and left shoulder and said after missing a third straight day of practice Friday that there had been no improvement.

“Strength-wise, to be honest, no,” Bartell said. “You can play with pain, but if you have no strength, if you’re not able to disengage off blocks or make tackles or even use my hands, that’s where the problem lies.”

Nickel cornerback Justin King also has a hamstring injury. Safety Oshiomoghe Atogwe practiced for the second straight day, though, after missing one day due to general soreness.

Bartell initially was hurt a few weeks ago in a collision with teammate C.J. Ah You, a defensive end. He’s not sure who he was tackling when he was re-injured last week at Arizona, and assumed he’d have to deal with the injury the rest of the season.

“It’s a tricky injury, so to speak,” Bartell said. “You really can’t treat a nerve, so it’s more so rest and hope the nerve calms down.”

Coach Steve Spagnuolo wasn’t optimistic, saying “if we can get it strong enough, he’ll go.”

Bartell was courted by the Saints (9-3) when he was a free agent before he decided to stay with the Rams and got a four-year contract with $13.6 million guaranteed.

“I’ve always prided myself on being able to play through certain things, but I’m not going to put us in a situation where I’m out there and I’m hurting the team,” he said.

Quincy Butler, who had been inactive three straight weeks before playing last week, would replace Bartell for Sunday’s game after replacing him against the Cardinals. The Rams (6-6) would look for second-year player Bradley Fletcher to step up his game against the Saints’ array of pass catchers.

Fletcher, a third-round pick last year, missed half of his rookie year with a serious knee injury. The Rams were pleasantly surprised when Fletcher was back in time for training camp.

“I think Fletch will be the first one to tell you it’s really his freshman year from a mental standpoint,” defensive coordinator Ken Flajole said. “All the reps and game experience that he lost is hard, but you don’t have any other way of picking it up and then putting them back in there and letting them get back on the horse again.”

Drew Brees leads the NFL with 25 touchdown passes, and five players have at least two TD catches.

“We’re going to play with 12, we’re going to go to Canadian rules, I think,” Spagnuolo joked. “They just keep throwing them in, one after another, and each one is as good as the next. And they have a good quarterback throwing to them.”

The Rams are likely to dial up more blitzes to compensate for the injuries in the secondary.

“They cause you a lot of late nights in regards to your pickups,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Safeties, corners, linebackers, they’re all coming at various times, so you’ve got to be sharp with your protections.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press



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