2 Rams vying for new role
Linehan tries to mix kick return duties
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan would like either Marques Hagans or Brad Pyatt to handle both the team's punt return and kickoff return chores.
"We'd like to establish a returner that can do both punt and kickoff," Linehan said. "It's kind of an old stand by, and that's what we're trying to do with Marques and Brad."
Linehan said Hagans and Pyatt will have the opportunity to prove that they can handle such double duty during the team's final two preseason games.
"The only way to do that is to give them more and more chances," Linehan said. "I think that's probably the way we'll continue to go at least during this next game for sure, and probably the next two. We'll finish it out that way."
The winner of Hagans-Pyatt battle probably will make the Rams' final 53-man roster as the team's sixth wide receiver.
"They haven't really told us that, and you never really know, but I think that's what it is going to come down to," Pyatt said.
Wide receiver Kevin Curtis has worked as a kickoff returner during the preseason, but Linehan doesn't want to expose Curtis to injury during the regular season.
"I don't know if that's going to be what we do with Kevin because his value as a third receiver is pretty high with our team," Linehan said of Curtis, who caught 60 passes for 801 yards and six touchdowns last season. "He's going to help us in there. He's going to be able to go back there in an as-needed role."
Hagans was taken in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft with the idea that he could become the Rams' return man.
Hagans played quarterback at the University of Virginia, but the elusiveness he showed as a ballcarrier convinced the Rams' coaching staff that he could be an effective return man.
"Maybe he doesn't have all the tools to play quarterback in the pro game, but he certainly can play football," Linehan said of Hagans, who rushed for 902 yards and 11 touchdowns during his college career.
Hagans is attempting to follow in the footsteps of other college quarterbacks who made the transition to wide receiver in the NFL, like Washington's Antwaan Randle El and Jacksonville's Matt Jones.
"I think you're looking for players," Linehan said. "A lot of colleges now put their best player at quarterback. Marques was a heck of a quarterback too. People don't understand that it wasn't us saying that he can't play quarterback. It's just that he did a lot of things with his feet from the quarterback position. He can throw the ball 70 yards flat-footed. The kid's talented. That usually translates into production somewhere else, whether it be a returner or receiver."
Hagans admits that he still finds himself wanting to take snaps from center in practice.
"Sometimes," Hagans said. "I have to go out and line up at receiver. That's what I'm here for, and I'm having a good time."
Hagans' biggest challenge is learning how to play wide receiver. He said working every day with Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Curtis should help accelerate his learning curve.
"I'm getting better," Hagans said. "I have a lot of good help around me. I still have a long ways to go, but I'm gaining confidence and trying to get better each day. I have to take as much advice as I can, learn from the best. The rest of it will work itself out."
So far in the preseason, Hagans has four kickoff returns for 78 yards (19.5 yards per return) and three punt returns for 32 yards (10.7 yards per return).
"I think as long as I stay within myself and let the game come to me, the big plays will come," Hagans said. "I think when you go out and press too much and you try to make the big plays, sometimes you make mistakes."
Pyatt has three kickoff returns for 85 yards (28.3 yards per return) and one punt return for seven yards this preseason.
Pyatt averaged 28.6 yards per kickoff return and 9.2 yards per punt return as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts in 2003. He sat out the entire 2005 season with the Colts due to a back injury.
One advantage Pyatt has over Hagans is that he's been a wide receiver his entire career. He caught 23 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a senior at Division II Northern Colorado.
Pyatt caught three passes in the two seasons prior to his back injury with the Colts. He realizes that cracking the Rams' receivers corps might be even tougher task than cracking the Colts' receivers corps.
"When I was at Indy, I always thought that if I was on another team, I wouldn't have to deal with this," Pyatt said. "Then I came here, and this (wide receiver corps) is more talented than Indy. It's amazing. You have nine of us here who could probably play for another team. It's a talented squad.
Re: 2 Rams vying for new role
I'm a little disappointed, was hoping Curtis would be the KR for the team.