Tuesday, August 12, 2008
By Brett Grassmuck
Staff Writer

Rams receiver Dante Hall made a name for himself in the NFL as a kick and punt returner. That’s exactly why he was brought in before the 2007 season, and that’s the role he played.

2008 is a new year, and with a new offensive coordinator familiar with Hall’s receiving skills, he has been working in with the first team much more than anyone expected, playing mostly in the slot, or third-receiver position.

“He is such a great player in space that if you find ways to get the ball in his hands other than on returns it is going to be valuable,” Rams coach Scott Linehan said. “Al (Saunders) does a great job of incorporating him in the offense. He doesn't have to play every down but he has a background with him too so it's nice to kind of know we can utilize him at times. At other times you will utilize other players in the same position. Dante obviously has a knack of making people miss and those kinds of things. I think Dante has had an outstanding camp all around.”

Hall’s had plenty of passes thrown his way this camp, and he always seems to put himself in position to make the catch. Once he does, he still has that breakaway speed, making him hard to run down.

Hall was expecting to see a few more balls thrown his way, but even he couldn’t have expected to get as much work as he has with the first team.

“(I’m) not (expecting) much, but you definitely want to get some (work with the offense),” Hall said at the start of camp. “I always said it’s very tough being a returner, and if the game goes along and you don’t get a kick return or a punt for a quarter, then all of a sudden in the second half you have to make a play, it’s just tough. You definitely want to get in and get your hands on a ball and get in the groove, or even just block someone. Having Al (Saunders) here, I know I’ll definitely have the opportunity to do that, and it will definitely help me out as far as game day.”

Make no mistake, just because Hall is working more with the offense doesn’t mean he won’t be the Rams primary return man. He’ll still have plenty of opportunities to do what he does best.

“Dante will be better than what he was last year,” former Rams head coach Dick Vermeil said. Vermeil coached Hall in his time as a head coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. “Dante is a fine football player. You look at him and say, well, he’s too small. But he’s the best return guy I have ever been around. He’s better than Az (Hakim). Dante is a converted running back so he’s used to that slamming it in there, coming out of the stack and all of that kind of stuff. When his confidence level is high, he can really go.”

Hall also enters this season with something to prove. Hall was noticeably dissapointed as the losses began to pile up last season. On top of that, he was one of the players sidelined by injury. He suffered a high-ankle sprain that sent him to injured reserve after just seven games.

“The record we had, as far as the injuries we had, I feel like it was a fluke,” Hall said. “To ensure that it was a fluke, I changed a lot of things as far as my approach and diet and training and things like that. That was definitely not acceptable by my standards, being out that many games. I pride myself on not missing games. I definitely did some things in the offseason to make sure, or at least put myself in a position so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Again, 2008 is a new season. Hall has been reunited with offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who worked Hall into his offensive scheme for five years, from 2001-2005, in Kansas City.

“It’s a whole different philosophy than what we had last year,” Hall said. “Not that (last year’s system) was bad, but it’s just a different philosophy. It’s going to be different for NFC West opponents that haven’t seen it in a while since (former Rams head coach Mike) Martz left and Al left. So, with shifting, motioning, different personnel, using different substitutes and things like that, it will give everybody a chance to play as well as make it difficult for defenses.”

ATOGWE RETURNS: Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was back on the practice field Tuesday morning in a limited capacity after suffering a hamstring injury the first week of training camp.

“He’s still not 100 percent, but he’s getting close,” Linehan said. “He’s certainly one of the guys we can really use in our defense and what he does for us with his communication back there and his ability. We’ve missed that for a few weeks.”

Linebacker Marc Magro also returned to practice Tuesday afternoon after sitting out the morning session. Magro was recovering from a knee bruise suffered in Saturday’s preseason game against the Titans.

Saftey Eric Bassey missed Tuesday’s morning practice with a strained neck that he aggravated in Saturday’s game. He was back in pads Tuesday afternoon, but was very limited. Linehan said the injury is not serious and listed him as day-to-day.

Safety Jerome Carter (groin), tackle Brandon Gorin (shoulder) and tight end Anthony Becht (hamstring) missed both practices on Tuesday.

STANLEY SWITCHES: With the Rams lacking depth in the secondary, wide receiver Derek Stanley switched to the other side for Tuesday’s afternoon practice. Stanley, sporting a white jersey with no name or number, filled in at cornerback during team drills.

Playing defense is nothing new for Stanley who began his college career at Wisconsin-Whitewater as a cornerback. The move is not a permanent one as the Rams are looking to bring in a player to add depth to the secondary.

VOBORA HONORED BY WAC: To the NFL, he’s Mr. Irrelevant, but to the Western Athletic Conference, Rams linebacker David Vobora is Mr. Academic.

Vobora was honored by the WAC with the Stan Bates Award, the highest academic honor of the conference, given to the top male and female student athletes.

Vobora was honored for his academic skills during all four of his seasons at Idaho. He also led the WAC in tackles his senior year and was named to ESPN the Magazine’s All-District Academic Team.

Vobora graduated from Idaho with a degree in communications and psychology.

RAM BITS: The Rams players cheered after practice when Linehan announced that he cancelled their Thursday morning practice. The players lobbied to get tomorrow off too, but to no avail.