He says he has much to prove
BY STEVE KORTE
News-Democrat

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz doesn't hesitate putting wide receiver Kevin Curtis in the same class with Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

"I think he's on par with our other two," Martz said of Curtis. "I think those three are very comparable receivers. We're very fortunate to have all three of them. He's a guy that is on that level."

While flattered by the extreme compliment, Curtis said he has a long way to go before he reaches the stature of Bruce and Holt, who each have been selected to four Pro Bowls.

"I've done very little compared to those guys," Curtis said. "I've got a lot to prove to be up in that status. Nice thought, though."

Curtis has only caught 36 passes in two NFL seasons as his development was slowed by a broken leg that required two surgeries. He also suffered through shin splints during his first two NFL training camps as he tried to adjust to heavy workload required of Rams receivers in practice.

Now Curtis, 27, is healthy and poised for a breakout season.

"Mentally, I am a lot different player," Curtis said. "Coming out of college, the mental side of the game is a lot different. Everybody is so much smarter. Everything has to be so precise and exact. I've just learned so much in the first two years from guys like Isaac and Torry and (wide receivers coach) Henry Ellard and Coach (Mike) Martz. The knowledge I have gained in the last two years of football probably exceeds all the knowledge I had in my life."

Curtis has rare speed. He was clocked in 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his campus workout at the University of Utah prior to the 2003 NFL Draft.

When asked who was the fastest of the Rams' receivers, quarterback Marc Bulger answered diplomatically.

"You've got to go with Torry, but once you get going, maybe the second hundred yards, Kevin would win," Bulger said. "But, if you have any turns in it, maybe Isaac would win. You'll have to ask those guys, I'm not going to get into that one."

Curtis exhibited his blazing speed on a 78-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter of the Rams' 36-21 preseason loss to San Diego Chargers last Sunday.

"If you look at the play, I even underthrew him a little bit," Fitzpatrick said. "It's hard to hit the guy in stride. He made a great play on the ball, and as soon as he gets the ball in his hands, he's outrunning everybody."

Curtis came on strong late last season as he led the Rams in receiving in the playoffs with 11 catches for 235 yards and one touchdown.

Martz said he's tried to emphasize getting the ball to Curtis during the preseason. Curtis has a team-high seven catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns in two preseason games.

"He's a guy that I went out of the way making sure we got him the ball," Martz said. "We put him a position to make big plays to see where he is to make sure that when we start the season he is ready to go."

Martz said that Curtis' growth as a receiver will allow Bruce to take a breather during games this season.

"I think we can be active with Kevin," Martz said. "We can put him in all kinds of places. What's really helps Isaac is he can come out now and he doesn't have to feel like he has to be in for every snap when he gets gassed. If he can stay fresh throughout the game, if we can give a two-play break somewhere on a drive, I think that's a real positive factor."

Bruce said he was anxious to see how far Curtis and Shaun McDonald will handle increased opportunities within the Rams' offense.

"I think those two guys are still growing," Bruce said. "They are still young as far as football is concerned. They have a lot to learn, but I think those guys are about ready to be that starting-type of wide receiver in this league."