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Rams show big improvement with solid special-teams play
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Oct. 14 2004
With just under 4 minutes remaining Sunday at Qwest Field and the Seahawks
leading 27-17, the Rams' Shaun McDonald fielded a punt at the St. Louis 20-yard
line. McDonald broke through the right side and 39 yards later, the Rams were
in business at the Seattle 41.
On the next play, wide receiver Kevin Curtis sprinted past two defenders and
hauled in quarterback Marc Bulger's on-the-button pass in the end zone. Just
like that, the Rams were down just 27-24. Some 6 1/2 minutes later, the Rams
pranced away with a startling 33-27 overtime victory.
Once again, the importance of solid special-teams play was apparent. "You have
to win in three phases: offense, defense and also special teams," said safety
Justin Lucas, a busy special-teams contributor. "You can't take that for
Yet that might have been the case early in the season, according to rookie
defensive end Anthony Hargrove. "Maybe at the beginning of the year not
everybody was taking (special teams) so seriously," he said. "But we saw that
we were just looking really bad out there, and we wanted to stop that. So we
took it upon ourselves to make it better."
And better, it's been. In the last two games, the Rams averaged 16.6 yards per
kickoff return, compared with 12.1 in the first three, and 14.0 yards per punt
return, compared with 3.7 in the first three.
"At the beginning of the year, we couldn't return a kickoff for anything,"
Hargrove said. "Now that we see we're getting close to breaking one, it just
makes you want to do that much better on your blocks."
Their coverage numbers gradually are improving, too. Trev Faulk and Erik
Flowers were named the team's special- teams players of the week for the last
two games, mainly for their stops on kickoffs.
"All the guys are getting down there and just really making things happen,"
Faulk said. "So it makes it tough on the opponent to really single out one guy
who they'll try to double-team or who they'll try to avoid going to. We're just
enjoying doing what we're doing."
The key to the improvement, coach Mike Martz said, is the increasing
availability of the linebackers and secondary players "Those are the guys that
really are the center point of your special teams," he said. "And now that
we're fairly healthy, those guys get to play the same position and they're
there all the time."
All the better for familiarity and cohesion to set it, rookie linebacker
Brandon Chillar noted. "The more you play together, the better you come
together," he said. "We had a tough time on some things at first, but the more
you do something, the more you work at it, the better you're going to get."
Mike Stock, who has logged 11 years as a special-teams coach in the NFL, is in
his first season in that position with the Rams. Stock replaced Bobby April,
whose contract wasn't renewed after the 2003 season.
"Mike Stock is a good teacher," Lucas said. "We're young on special teams, and
he's teaching technique and things like that."
Guard Chris Dishman suited up for practice Thursday for the first time since
suffering a hyperextended right knee early in the second quarter against New
Orleans on Sept. 26. Scott Tercero replaced Dishman for the remainder of that
contest and started the past two games.
Despite suffering a broken left hand in San Francisco on Oct. 3, Tercero was
back in the lineup Sunday in Seattle and is expected to start again Monday
night vs. Tampa Bay (1- 4). Dishman was listed as "questionable" on Thursday's
Cornerback Travis Fisher, out since Aug. 23 with a broken right forearm, saw
limited action in practice Thursday.
Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, who broke his right foot in training camp, is
continuing individual workouts.
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