Already riding the surge of a three-game winning streak as they head to Miami for Sunday's game against the winless Dolphins, the St. Louis Rams have been further buoyed by the return of cornerback Travis Fisher to the lineup.
Sidelined since Aug. 23, when he broke his right forearm in a preseason game and had surgery two days later, Fisher is set to make his '04 debut against the Dolphins, regaining his spot as the starter at right cornerback. Since the prognosis was that Fisher might be sidelined three months, and possibly for the entire season, his return is a substantial bonus for the Rams.
The third-year veteran, who maintained his conditioning in part by participating in some non-contact drills through his rehabilitation, was cleared to play earlier this week. He took part in all practice segments during the week.
"It gives us three outstanding corners," coach Mike Martz said.
Indeed, if there was any positive that came from Fisher's absence, it was the accelerated development of second-year veteran DeJuan Groce, who started four of six games. Groce had 16 tackles and two passes defensed in those contests, and now, with Fisher and left corner Jerametrius Butler reunited, will move into the "nickel" role.
The young threesome, with fourth-year veteran Butler the senior member, will provide the Rams with superb flexibility in the secondary. In fact, once the Rams confirmed Friday that Fisher was cleared to start, St. Louis released veteran safety Kwamie Lassiter, who had been signed Sept. 21 as a free agent amid a spate of injuries in the unit.
The 10-year veteran appeared in four games, principally in "nickel" and "dime" coverage packages, and had 11 tackles. To replace Lassiter, the club elevated rookie special teams player Dusty McGrorty from the practice squad to the active roster.
Fisher, 25, acknowledged that he "has been anxious" to return to the lineup but said that he didn't want to take any chances until doctors assured him his arm was completely healed. He may wear some additional padding on the arm to absorb the shock of initial contact.
The former Central Florida star, a second-round pick in the 2002 draft, started 26 games in his first two seasons, registering 127 tackles, six interceptions and 14 passes defensed.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.