Hill hopes to return after month-long injury layoff

ST. LOUIS -- After missing a month with a lower back injury, St. Louis Rams cornerback Tye Hill believes he's ready to play again.

The secondary needs him, given third cornerback Ron Bartell finished last week's game at safety because of injuries. But Hill, the team's first-round pick in 2006, said Wednesday he has to temper his enthusiasm.

"It's nowhere near as bad as it was in the beginning and nowhere near as bad as it was two weeks ago," Hill said. "I'm itching to get back out there, but definitely want to be smart about it."

Hill, injured in a practice collision with safety O.J. Atogwe last month, doesn't want to return too quickly and risk leaving the winless Rams (0-5) shorthanded if he has a setback. He reported only minor discomfort on Wednesday.

"If I'm up, I've got to go," Hill said. "I can't be up for a series and then I'm hurting and can't play.

"That's the key, you're dealing with numbers on game day," he said.

Coach Scott Linehan said Hill looked good in practice and speculated that even if he didn't start he could help out as a nickel back on Sunday at Baltimore. He said a decision would be made later in the week whether to clear him to play and whether it was too soon to give him a start.

"Some of it is just getting through the confidence level of being able to make the hits and take the blows because of how painful an injury it was," Linehan said. "I think he's getting closer to that."

Hill returned to workouts last week, and a return to the lineup would give the Rams their projected starting cornerbacks for the first time. Fakhir Brown made his debut last week against the Cardinals, intercepting two passes, after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Bartell started in Brown's spot the first four games and then moved to Hill's spot last week. Lenny Walls started three weeks in Hill's
spot, struggling in particular in a 35-7 loss at Dallas on Sept. 30.

Now, safety is a larger concern, which could again affect Bartell on Sunday. Strong safety Corey Chavous (pectoral) missed last week and was limited in practice on Wednesday, although backup Todd Johnson (neck strain) returned to full duty.

Hill is happy just to be in the equation.

"I just have to go with what they say to do and hopefully they'll give me the green light," Hill said. "You definitely have to convince them to practice, but it's important because a lot goes into me playing."