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Thread: 'Save us, Dante!'
'Save us, Dante!'
'Save us, Dante!'
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Dante Hall was merely a spectator at Saturday's scrimmage because of a sore hamstring, but that didn't keep Rams fans from showing him some love.
"Save us, Dante! Save us!" they yelled, drawing smiles from Hall, standing a few feet away on the sidelines at Rams Park.
Things have gone so poorly for the Rams' return game in recent seasons, Hall already is getting a hero's welcome in St. Louis.
"The fact that they traded for me and gave up a couple of picks, it had to be pretty bad," Hall said. "They haven't had a return in how long? Since Tony Horne or something like that?"
Since the start of the 2002 season, the Rams have had only one kickoff return or punt return go for a touchdown.
"That's not good," Hall said. "We, as a unit, we're definitely going to get that turned around this year."
No offense to Hall, but things have been so bad for so long that seeing will be believing in St. Louis. Over the past three seasons, the Rams haven't finished higher than 23rd in the NFL in either punt or kickoff returns. Things reached the point where any kickoff return to the 30-yard line was cause for celebration. On punts, reluctant return man Shaun McDonald drifted sideways much more than north and south.
So there's probably not another team in the league for which Hall can have a greater impact than the Rams.
"I agree," Hall said. "I don't know the situations of other teams, but I know this was something that needed to be addressed."
The Rams addressed it by trading a fifth-round pick — and also swapping third-round selections — with Kansas City a few days before the draft. They also hired a new special teams coach in Al Roberts and have tried to bring in role players who will upgrade the blocking and coverage on special teams.
"A lot of teams, they want to have great special teams, but they don't want to put the necessary work in to make it a good team," Hall said. "I think that's one thing that this organization has started to do — put an actual focus in."
After the trade, the first thing Roberts said to Hall was: "May I have permission to coach you?"
It was Roberts' way of immediately establishing a rapport — and an open dialogue — with Hall.
"The kid is a Pro Bowler, one of the best return guys in the league right now, and eventually we're going to talk about him as one of the best return guys of all time," Roberts said. "He's in that mode. But more than anything else, he receives instruction. He doesn't pretend like he knows it all, and I love that about him."
So as the Rams prepare for the 2007 season, Roberts and Hall have had a meeting of the minds. They've shared special-teams philosophy, as well as nuts and bolts. Roberts has talked about how the Rams plan to block for Hall, and he's sought input on how Hall likes to do his thing.
"I want him to do what he does," Roberts said. "I don't ever want to take that from him."
Even though Hall's numbers dipped the past two seasons in Kansas City, Roberts likes what he sees on film and on the practice field.
"He goes laterally so quick," Roberts said. "And he's real good at it."
Roberts also sees the acceleration and straight-ahead speed needed to be a home run threat.
"He gets 10 yards easier than I've ever seen anybody do it," Roberts said, referring specifically to punt returns.
Instead of fixating on the home run and getting frustrated when it's not there, Roberts wants Hall to concentrate on getting those 10 yards on punt returns, and reaching the 30 on kickoff returns. Hall is trying to embrace that philosophy.
"Don't always look for the home runs," Hall said. "Take the 10. Take the 15, and then the home runs will come. I think if we do that, if we all have that mindset, the home runs will come."
Hall has "hit" 11 home runs as an NFL return man. His total of 11 kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns is the third-highest in league history. But he's the first to admit that he can't do it alone, and Roberts has assured him that he's trying to assemble a good supporting cast.
"I'm getting a bunch of guys that want to be on this, want to be here, want to block," Roberts has told Hall.
That's important to Hall, who feels timing and consistency on the return team are just as important as the individual blocks.
"My theory is, it's like any other unit on the football field," Hall said. "If you have a defensive unit, you need those guys to be practicing together for a while. When we had great success for a couple of years in KC, we had the same unit as far as blocking and covering kicks and everything. Our timing was great. We all knew how each other functioned and worked. And that's what made us good."
But even Hall concedes that bringing a little something extra always helps.
"All great returners have to at some point make a couple guys miss," Hall said.
Does Hall still have that something extra? Roberts thinks so.
"He hasn't lost anything," Roberts said.
Re: 'Save us, Dante!'
We should of had that punt-return for a TD in 2004 against the Bucs on Monday Night Football. Shaun McDonald made a very nice returns, but we got scewed on an "illegal block in the back" by somebody. The dude has his head IN FRONT of the guy, and John Madden even said "if you can't block like that, than you can't block on punt returns."
Oh well, at least we won that one. Let's hope Hall can provide us with some great field position!
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