Personnel shifts fail to pay off
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The need for more seasoned depth in the secondary prompted the Rams' decision to replace J.R. Reed as the primary kick returner Sunday. That move backfired in a big way in the 30-28 loss to Seattle.
A fumble early in the fourth quarter by wideout Kevin Curtis, Reed's largely inexperienced substitute, led to a key touchdown in the Seahawks' rally from a 14-point halftime deficit.
The Seahawks recovered at the Rams 22-yard line. A 19-yard pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver Deion Branch two plays later put Seattle up 24-21.
"When it comes to taking care of the ball, it doesn't matter if it's a kickoff return or when I'm out there as a receiver," Curtis said. "That solely comes down on me."
Curtis didn't return kicks at Utah State or in his first three seasons with the Rams. He had one in an exhibition game this year and one for 21 yards at San Francisco in Week 2 of the regular season.
Reed is a safety, but he's still learning the Rams' defense after arriving Sept. 4, just six days before the season opener. Reed, who was released by the Eagles, has a 20.2-yard average on 14 returns for the Rams.
"In Philadelphia, I played a lot" at safety, he said. "Moving on to a new team and new coaches ... you have to earn their trust. It's a hard thing to do, especially in a totally different system."
So coach Scott Linehan went with Dwaine Carpenter, who had been with the team since the start of training camp — except for a week's hiatus earlier this month when he was cut and then re-signed.
Carpenter "is a little more comfortable with our defense," Linehan said. "I told J.R. it was nothing he did or didn't do. It was more to back ourselves up in the secondary and to give Kevin a chance."
"Obviously, I feel real bad about it. At the same time, I know I can't take it back," he said. "So I look forward to any opportunity I can get to kind of put things right."
The attrition rate at fullback is mounting. Paul Smith probably will be out another month while recovering from fractures and muscle damage near his left eye. Today, Madison Hedgecock will have surgery on his broken right thumb.
Hedgecock was hurt on the first series Sunday, when he ran for 2 yards and a first down. It was only his second carry in two NFL seasons.
"Somebody's hand hit it a certain way," Hedgecock said. "It just went numb and there was a lot of pain. The pain kind of eased up a little bit, and then the swelling took over and it got real stiff."
Still, Hedgecock remained in the game. "It didn't limit me that much; it was just a little painful," he said.
The Rams have a bye Sunday, and Hedgecock might be able to play Oct. 29 at San Diego. Also, tight end Dominique Byrd will get some work in the backfield at practice.
Cornerback Fakhir Brown, who has missed two games with a sprained ankle, is expected back for the Chargers game, too.
Short practices are planned for today and Wednesday, and then the players will be off until next week. ... Alton's Joe Hook is the Rams' high school coach of the week after the Redbirds edged O'Fallon 23-20 and improved to 7-1. The Rams Foundation and NFL Charities will donated $1,000 donation to the school's football program.