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Hall is hoping for many happy returns vs. Saints
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Asked whether he was itching to get back on the field, the Rams' Dante Hall responded with mock indignation. "Oh, man, beyond itching. It's a rash," Hall said.
On Sunday at New Orleans, Hall could suit up for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain while returning a punt Oct. 7 vs. Arizona. At first, he thought it was a minor injury.
"I was able to walk off the field," said Hall, who also returns kicks and is the team's No. 4 wide receiver. "I figured maybe it was a mild sprain and I'd be back in a couple of weeks."
Instead, Hall sat out the next three games and still was hobbling last week during the bye. "In my career, I've never, ever sat out a month. Never," he said. And he found the experience difficult.
"At the end of the day, it's all about competing and winning and all that. But I just enjoy getting out there," Hall said. "To be on the sideline watching my comrades and just having to be a cheerleader, it's tough."
Hall was putting up sound numbers before he was hurt, averaging 25.2 yards on kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on punts. He scored on an 85-yard punt return Sept. 30 at Dallas.
He went down the next Sunday, and the recovery has been wrenchingly slow. "If I was a lineman, I would've been back two or three weeks ago," Hall said. "But without my lateral movement and cuts, I just can't do it."
After an incident-free week of practice, Hall reported himself fit for duty. But coach Scott Linehan is being cautious. Hall was listed as "questionable" on Friday's injury report, and Linehan said a "game-time decision" would determine his availability.
The Rams signed free-agent Brandon Williams just two days after Hall was hurt, and he has filled in admirably, if not spectacularly. Williams, cut by San Francisco earlier this year, averages 23.2 yards on kickoffs and 7.8 yards on punts.
"Brandon's been doing a solid job for us returning, and he's been getting a lot of work at wide receiver" in practice, Linehan noted. "We've been able to evaluate him as a young receiver prospect."
That's a welcome opportunity, Williams said. "That's my position; I don't feel like I'm just a returner in this league," he said. The Rams have "given me a chance to come in and try to play receiver, and I really appreciate that."
Williams, a St. Louis native who starred at Hazelwood East High, is trying to soak up as much as possible from Pro Bowl teammates Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Brett Romberg also was questionable on the injury report, but he said that his sprained right ankle "is getting better every day" and that he expects to play Sunday. If so, Linehan indicated that Romberg, the first-team center until he was hurt, would start at right guard.
His linemates would be Andy McCollum at center, Alex Barron at left tackle, Milford Brown at left guard and Brandon Gorin at right tackle. If Romberg is out, the right guard job would be up for grabs.
"We'll consider (Rob) Petitti and we'll consider (Nick) Leckey," Linehan said. "Dustin (Fry) is definitely far enough along to be inserted any time during the game."
The Saints will be without three defensive starters: end Charles Grant (ankle), tackle Brian Young (knee) and linebacker Scott Shanle (hamstring). Also, running back Reggie Bush (knee) is questionable. ... The Rams haven't played in New Orleans since losing to New England 20-17 there in Super Bowl XXXVI.
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