Rams' receivers will test Dolphins secondary

BY CARL KOTALA
FLORIDA TODAY



Isaac Bruce has the reputation of being the calmer of the two St. Louis Rams wide receivers.

But you wouldn't know it from talking to Rams coach Mike Martz.

"If I could identify anything except his God-given ability, I would say he's the most intense player I've ever been around in any sport," Martz said. "I can't describe it. He's like a caged tiger. He's back and forth. He can't wait to play the game.

"We played the Super Bowl -- the last one -- and he fractured a couple of ribs in the first series and I didn't know about it until almost two weeks after the game. You know, those things happen with him. He competes so hard. He's just the consummate professional."

Teaming with Torry Holt, Bruce is part of one of the most dangerous wide receiver combinations in the NFL. And that's what makes their trip to Pro Player Stadium on Sunday so intriguing.

The Miami Dolphins may be 0-6, but they've got the NFL's No. 1 ranked pass defense and a couple of Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks in Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison that are also considered two of the best at what they do.

And come Sunday, it's every man-on-man coverage for himself.

I'm really good friends with Sam. I'm really good friends with Pat," Rams running back Marshall Faulk said. "But I gotta go with my guys. The last time they played, I had to go with my guys and I think they had a pretty decent day against them. It's kind of hard for guys who don't play against these guys to understand just how good they are."

Sunday's game will be the first since the Rams blew out Miami 42-10 in 2001 at the Edward Jones Dome.

Of the two receivers, Holt had the best day, catching four passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Bruce had three catches for 36 yards.

Since that time, Bruce has steadily moved up the charts of receiving leaders, passing Terance Mathis, Gary Clark and Keenan McCardell to move into 18th place all time with 727 receptions. He also moved into 13th place in all-time receiving yards and needs just two to reach 11,003.

He also became the first player since Charley Hannigan in 1963 to start the season with four consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Through six games, Bruce is No. 3 in the NFL in receptions (39) and yardage (537).

Holt, meanwhile, is coming off his best game of the season -- a six-catch, 124-yard, two touchdown performance against Tampa Bay. He is eighth in the NFL with 36 receptions and sixth in yardage with 487.

Both guys are fast and can produce the acrobatic catch, making them a tough matchup for any cornerbacks, even two as talented as Madison and Surtain.

"Yeah, you take it very seriously and you can't take it lightly because these guys can do some unbelievable things," Madison said. "The last couple of weeks Isaac Bruce has really come into his own and set records that in the first five or six games people haven't done in a long time.

"It's a must that you take it seriously, not just myself and Pat (Surtain), but really the whole secondary because they spread the ball around so well."

As good as both groups are, a big key to their battle will be Miami's pass rush. If the Dolphins can get to St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, Madison and Surtain won't have to lock down their men as long. But if Bulger is allowed to sit back in the pocket, it will be hard for any cornerback to shut them down.

Faulk said what makes the Rams duo so special is their unselfishness. "Normally, when you watch a team play, you can tell which guy is getting the ball by how he comes off the ball, how he runs the route," Faulk said. "But you look at these two guys, you don't know who's getting the ball. Both of them run routes, whether they're clearing out for one another, or not even part of the read sometimes. They're just as effective. I think they compete against each other and that keeps the both of them at the top of their game."