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Practice makes perfect for Cleeland
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Jan. 08 2005
SEATTLE - On Fridays, the Rams typically work on red-zone situations, and tight
end Cam Cleeland typically is the star.
"I think I lead the league in Friday practice touchdowns," he said.
In games, though, Cleeland has been counted upon most as a blocker this year.
Going into the Rams' first-round playoff contest at Qwest Field, Cleeland had
recorded just seven catches for 57 yards - and no touchdowns - all season.
But with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game, Saturday turned into Friday
for Cleeland. Just as in practice, he snagged quarterback Marc Bulger's 17-yard
toss over the middle in the end zone. This one counted, though, and it helped
hand the Rams a 27-20 victory in front of 65,397.
Bulger put the ball up high, which is exactly where the 6-foot-5, 270-pound
Cleeland wants it.
"With my height, I like to jump for the ball," he said. "That way it doesn't
give the other guys a chance to knock it out."
Quick-closing Seahawks free safety Ken Hamlin did his best; he drilled Cleeland
a split-second after the ball arrived.
"I didn't see anything except the ball," said Cleeland, a seven-year veteran.
"I said, 'You'd better hang on to this sucker, because you know you're going to
"I think I took a pretty good hit; I can't really remember it. I just fell down
and cradled it."
The catch was especially pleasing for Cleeland because he grew up in the
Seattle area, played his college ball at cross-town Washington and had spent
his youth rooting for the hometown NFL team.
"I grew up as an avid Seahawks fan, and I'll always be a Seahawks fan ...
except when I'm playing them," he said. "It's good to finally get one in front
of the family. It's just very surreal right now."
While Cleeland had just the one reception, wideouts Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis,
Isaac Bruce and Shaun McDonald continually harassed the Seahawks' secondary.
Bulger passed for 313 yards, connecting with Holt six times for 108 yards and
Curtis four times for 107.
Bruce added three catches for 40 yards, and McDonald's lone grab went 31 yards
into Seattle territory on the Rams' winning drive. McDonald lined up on the
left side, shifted into the backfield, took a short toss from Bulger in stride
and steamed down the right sideline.
"We had that play in about the last four or five weeks, but I don't think we'd
even run it in a game," McDonald said. "It came out just like Coach (Mike
Martz) drew it up."
Curtis put together his second big game in succession. His six grabs for 99
yards were key in the Rams' 32-29 overtime win over the New York Jets last
Sunday, which qualified them for the postseason.
His biggest contribution Saturday was a 50-yard gain down the middle on a post
route that took the Rams to the 5-yard line. Marshall Faulk's 1-yard charge up
the middle two plays later made it 14-3 early in the second period.
"In all the years I've played football, I don't think I've seen a prettier ball
than that one," Curtis said. "Marc put that thing right out there and let me
run underneath it."
The continuing emergence of Curtis and McDonald, both second-year pros, adds
weaponry to the Rams' arsenal, Bruce pointed out.
"It's just so nice and uplifting to see these guys, the way they perform week
in and week out," he said. "Their confidence just grows with every catch."