BY JEFF GORDON
STLtoday.com Sports Columnist
Thursday, Sep. 29 2005

All along, we figured this would be a breakout year for Kevin Curtis.

He blossomed down the stretch last season and starred in the playoffs. He moved
past his earlier injury problems and fulfilled the promise coach Mike Martz saw
in him three years ago when the Rams drafted him out of Utah State.

Now his progress becomes especially critical with veteran Isaac Bruce hobbled
by the dreaded “turf toe” injury. He could move into the starting lineup next
to Torry Holt on Sunday as the Rams face the New York Giants in a difficult
road test.

Although Martz has suggested Ike’s status would be a “game time” decision, it
would be prudent to rest him for a week or two so he can play out the season
like a Pro Bowler.

“I’m not trying to be Isaac,” Curtis said. “Those are some huge shoes to fill.
I know I’m not Isaac. I have to go out and do my job. I’m just going to do my
best.”


Curtis is fast, perhaps faster than any Ram but cornerbacks Travis Fisher and
Chris Johnson. He is explosive after making the catch. And he can make the
catch, snatching the tough passes and hanging onto the routine throws.

With these skills, he could become a better third receiver than Az-Zahir Hakim
was during the “Air Martz” glory days.

But his first NFL season was a wash due to injuries; he played just four games
and caught just four passes. “My rookie year I was basically redshirted,”
Curtis said.

Last season he caught 32 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns. Then he broke
through in the playoffs, catching 11 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown in
the two games.

“It helped a lot,” Curtis said of his big finish. “Toward the end of the year,
when Isaac was banged up, my number was called to come in and play. I know I
can play. To actually go and do some things last year, I did a good job with,
it gave me confidence I can do it.”


He and second-year running back Steven Jackson were big reasons why optimists
pegged the Rams for a 10-6 or 11-5 finish in the weak NFC this season. They
have been groomed to assume leading roles in “The Greatest Show of Turf.”

In three games, Curtis lived up to his billing by catching 14 passes for 148
yards and a touchdown. He was a force in the second half of Sunday’s victory
over Tennessee after replacing the injured Bruce as Holt’s regular partner.

“The more playing time you get, the more comfortable you start to get out
there,” he said. “Even last week, the second half, when I was in there for
every play, I started to feel more comfortable, a little more into the game. It
was a good experience for me.”

He has learned a great deal working side by side with Holt and Bruce, two
dedicated professionals who avoid all the Terrell Owens/Randy Moss nonsense.
These two run every route on every passing play and block downfield on every
running play.

“I’m still learning every day,” Curtis said. “Ever since I’ve been here, it’s
kind of opened my eyes, what a true receiver is. I never realized how much is
into route running, that sort of thing. Just how they compete, every week,
every game.”


When he plays as a third receiver with Holt and Bruce on the field, his game
naturally elevates.

“When you are surrounded by those sorts of players, it just naturally makes you
a better player,” Curtis said. “The way they compete. You don’t have room to
relax and take a play off here and there. They are on you. They’ve been on me.
You can’t take a play off.”

His two-plus seasons in the NFL have led him to Sunday’s opportunity, when
Martz figures to give him plenty of responsibility within the game plan.

“I know what I can do,” Curtis said. “When I go out there Sunday, I need to
trust in that and go out and play ball.”