Finnegan brings edge to Rams' defense

2012-03-16T00:50:00Z 2012-03-20T10:03:22Z Finnegan brings edge to Rams' defenseBY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

New Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan is mild-mannered off the field but a wild man on it. So what comes over him once he steps on the field?

Blame it on Mom.

"It may be my Irish side," he said. "I don't know. My mom's a little feisty. If you ever get the chance to meet her, she's got about 400 tattoos and she's just a wild woman. She's military background, so I think just her wild side is sort of part of what it's all about for me."

His mother, Linda, served 20 years in the Army, including three years in Korea when Cortland was a youngster.

You can call Finnegan wild. You can say he plays aggressively — maybe too aggressively. Just don't call him a dirty player, says coach Jeff Fisher.

"I think his reputation is widely misunderstood out there from the standpoint of the dirty player-type thing and all that," Fisher said. "He's just a very productive player. I would say this: the only thing he does better than on the field is what he does off the field and in the community. And he'll have a tremendous impact and role in the community as well."

Finnegan is very proud of his Ark 31 Foundation, which emphasizes helping youth with special needs and disabilities.

But when it comes to football, most fans associate Finnegan with roughhouse play as a Tennessee Titan.

The Rams picked up Finnegan for $50 million over five years, making him the first free agent signing of Fisher's tenure. The Rams aren't necessarily looking for highlight-reel scuffles, such as the one Finnegan had in 2010 with Houston receiver Andre Johnson. But they do want Finnegan to bring some attitude and leadership to their defense, and make a few highlight-reel plays along the way.

"He plays with an edge, he does," Fisher said. "And he challenges and he competes. And he finishes every down."

But there's some skill to go with that Irish passion.

"He's a complete corner in that he's got great cover skills," Fisher said. "He's a run-support corner. He's got flexibility to move inside. There's always the potential to match him up on a top receiver on a game-to-game basis. He's a very, very hard worker every day. Consistent on the practice field. Consistent in the weight room. Understands preparation. We're going to have some younger players in the room, and I think he'll be a great example for them."

In his five seasons as a full-time starter for the Titans, Finnegan averaged 92 tackles, three interceptions, and 15 pass breakups a year. He also has six career sacks and four career defensive touchdowns.

He doesn't dispute the fact that there's an edge to his play.

"If there is an edge, I'm standing over it, looking over it," Finnegan said.

But for those who think he crosses the line, or even jumps over that edge ...

"Everyone has their opinion," he said. "You go out there and try to help your football team win, and I just happen to play with an edge to me. I never want to hurt the football team, but also want to make big plays."

Finnegan said he was humbled and excited after signing one of the most lucrative contracts so far in the free agency period. He has come along way from his days as a 150-pound football player at Milton (Fla.) High, or his small-college days at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. But the Titans thought enough of him to bring him in for a "top 30" pre-draft visit, and ended up taking him in the seventh round in 2006.

"Towards the end of the period prior to the draft it was recommended to me by our people in the personnel department to look at this safety and returner from Samford," Fisher said. "So we put the tape on and I said, 'Wow.' "

Entering this year's free agency period, Finnegan was considered one of the top corners on the market. But he never made any visits before agreeing to terms Tuesday with the Rams.

"It just made sense," Finnegan said. "I love Coach Fisher and the direction he's always taken the team. I respect him for everything he stands for, and I definitely wanted to come be a part of this."

Free agent update

Tennessee defensive lineman Jason Jones left St. Louis without a contract Thursday, and apparently is visiting Seattle next. Snead said he expects a decision from Jones in the next few days.

• Center Scott Wells (Green Bay), quarterback Shaun Hill (Detroit), and wide receiver Steve Smith (Philadelphia) visited Rams Park on Thursday, with their visits expected to continue today. Wide receiver Mario Manningham (New York Giants) and offensive guard Travelle Wharton (Carolina) also were scheduled to arrive Thursday night.

• Offensive tackle Eric Winston (Houston) is scheduled to arrive today, and defensive lineman Kendall Langford (Miami) might be in this weekend, if he doesn't sign with Cincinnati.

• Former Rams cornerback Ron Bartell headed for Oakland for a visit with the Raiders.

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