EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Seven years and 94 starts into his NFL career, Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan insists that whatever success he’s had has been centered solely on raw ability and moxie.
As Finnegan moves toward the next stage of his career, he is well aware that some of the natural skills that have helped him get by will slowly begin to evaporate.
Enter defensive coordinator Tim Walton. After spending the past four seasons working with Detroit’s secondary, Walton came to St. Louis this season to take over a coordinator job that was unoccupied in 2012.
In addition to actually having just one voice calling the defense, Finnegan said Walton brings a deep knowledge of playing in the secondary that should help Finnegan improve as a technician.
“It’s huge for me,” Finnegan said. “For seven straight years, I sort of got away with just talent. For him to come in, it’s really going to hopefully take my game to the next level as far as fundamentals and technique goes. I think every DB benefits from Tim Walton being here.”
Finnegan has done just fine under the tutelage of secondary coach Chuck Cecil, posting 17 career interceptions, earning a trip to the 2008 Pro Bowl and ultimately landing a five-year, $50 million contract from the Rams in 2012.
Cecil and assistant secondary coach Brandon Fisher have their hands full with a young secondary, which, aside from Finnegan, boasts only one player (safety Matt Giordano) with more than three years of NFL experience.
At 29, Finnegan would seem to have plenty of solid football in his future, but he also seems to be the rare player who has an early understanding of his football mortality.
In talking with Isaac Bruce on Monday, the former Rams receiver made a comment alluding to the best practice for extending careers deep into players' 30s. Bruce brought it up in discussing rookie wideout Tavon Austin, but it might actually apply more to a player such as Finnegan as he closes in on his 30s.
“From my background of playing this game, the more wisdom you have, I think the more success you’ll have, even over talent,” Bruce said. “Your talent starts to fade, but the more you know, you can stay in this game a long time and have a lot of success.”
Finnegan started his first season with the Rams by posting interceptions in each of his first three games, including one returned 31 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against Detroit. Near the end of the season, Finnegan battled a thigh injury that limited him to playing exclusively in nickel situations as the third cornerback for the team’s final three games.
As he approaches this season, Finnegan says he’s making it a point to polish up his fundamentals to ensure he can keep up with players who might get by on athleticism and talent, as he has for much of his career.
“Technique-wise, I think that’s overshadowed when you make plays on the field,” Finnegan said. “When your technique is bad, you look at just the end result. Oh, that was just a good end result, but everything in between was bad. If you can clean that up, what’s to say you can’t make more plays. I think that’s where we’re at this year.”
It’s somewhat unusual for players who haven’t turned 30 to have such perspective on their careers, but Finnegan is open and honest about the best way to ensure he can continue to produce well into his next decade.
“Not knowing when your last snap is going to be and considering my love for the game, if I can leave on that note one day and they say, 'That guy was a good all-around football player, fundamentally and technique-wise on the way out,' I’ll take that,” Finnegan said.