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Cason gives special teams a lift on kick returns
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Monday, Dec. 27 2004
His 31-yard runback is club's longest of year
Last week against Arizona, Aveion Cason was among the Rams' pregame inactives.
Coach Mike Martz thought he couldn't justify dressing four halfbacks in the
But he found a way Monday night against Philadelphia, and Cason was back
"It just gives us a lift in the kickoff return," Martz said. "He's got some
real juice. ... He's got so much speed and he just explodes when he hits it up
Cason's 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash was noticeable in Monday's 20-7
victory over the Eagles. He returned the opening kickoff 22 yards, to the Rams'
27. And following Philadelphia's touchdown, he caught David Akers' kickoff at
the goal line and returned it 31 yards.
Believe it or not, the 31-yard return was the longest of the season for the
Rams. Cason also had the previous long for the Rams, a 30-yarder against
Carolina in his first game after being signed by the Rams on Dec. 7.
The Rams made room for Cason on the roster by dressing only seven offensive
linemen and only seven defensive backs. Arlen Harris had handled kickoff
returns in 13 of the Rams' 15 games this season. His longest return of the
season is 29 yards.
Special teams trickery
Early in the second quarter, on a fourth-and-2 play from the Philadelphia 41,
place-kicker Jeff Wilkins trotted out with the Rams' punting unit. Only Wilkins
Wilkins took the snap from long snapper Chris Massey and threw a nice spiral
down field toward wide receiver Dane Looker. But the ball was slightly
underthrown and appeared to be intercepted by Philadelphia cornerback Dexter
Wynn at the 10. Philly's Pro Bowl cornerback, Lito Sheppard, suffered a thigh
bruise on the play in a collision with Wynn.
Rather than accept the interception, Eagles coach Andy Reid challenged the
call, because the ball appeared to squirt out before Wynn hit the ground. A
review reversed the call, the pass was ruled incomplete and Philadelphia took
over on downs at its 41 instead of the 10.
Backup tight end Cameron Cleeland suffered a concussion late in the first half
and did not return. That ended the Rams' ability to run two tight-end sets
because the team carries only Cleeland and Brandon Manumaleuna at the position
on their roster.
"It really did alter what we do in the running game," Martz said. "That's what
in the second half our running game looked so different."
And it was less effective. After rushing for 163 yards in the first half, the
Rams gained only 46 yards in 21 carries in the second half.
Rookie Anthony Hargrove made his first NFL start for the Rams on Monday, ahead
of Bryce Fisher at right defensive end. Fisher still rotated in. But for
Hargrove, the start was an acknowledgment of his improved play lately.
According to unofficial press box statistics, Hargrove didn't have a tackle
Monday. But Fisher made his presence felt, with a sack and a forced fumble of
third-string Eagles quarterback Jeff Blake that set up a fourth-quarter field
goal by Wilkins.
Rams wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and running back Marshall Faulk
wore No. 92 insignias on their helmet in honor of former NFL defensive end
Reggie White, who died Sunday at age 43.
According to an NFL observer, the players are subject to fines of at least
$5,000 because the insignias violate the league's uniform code.
Designated as pregame inactives for were OG Darnell Alford; CB Dwight Anderson;
OG Chris Dishman (knee injury); DE Erik Flowers; WR Mike Furrey; QB Jeff
Smoker; and S Aeneas Williams (neck injury).
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