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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    By Bill Coats
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    11/16/2006

    Many have come and many have gone. But none of the kick-return candidates the Rams have tried since losing the scintillating Tony Horne to free agency six years ago brought better credentials than Willie Ponder, the newest applicant for the job.

    Only two of the Rams' 36 returns this season have exceeded Ponder's four-year career average of 25.6 yards. In 2004, Ponder set a New York Giants record by piling up 259 return yards vs. Pittsburgh en route to an NFL-leading season average of 26.9 yards.

    "I know the players, the people upstairs (in the executive offices at Rams Park) and the people in the community are going to have a lot of expectations of me," said Ponder, one of four new Rams signees. "I've just got to come in and perform."

    The 6-foot, 204-pound Ponder, a wide receiver by trade, auditioned here two weeks ago. On Tuesday, the team released J.R. Reed, who averaged 20.4 yards on 17 returns. Kevin Curtis and Tony Fisher also returned kicks this year, with modest success.




    "It's certainly something we can improve on," coach Scott Linehan said. "I think (Ponder) can impact the game with not just positive field position, but with ... the ability to hit the home run."

    Ponder, 26, went deep twice for the Giants, traveling 91 yards for a touchdown in 2004 and 95 yards in '05. He was released in the offseason and signed with Seattle.

    After six games for the Seahawks, in which he averaged 23.5 yards on 25 attempts, Ponder again was sent packing. "When (quarterback Matt) Hasselbeck went down (with a knee injury), they had to bring in a quarterback, and I was an expendable guy," he said. "It was a numbers game."

    Ponder has been fighting for a permanent home since starring at Central High in Tulsa, Okla. He played as a freshman at the University of Tulsa, but academic problems led him to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for a year.

    His next stop was Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, where he rolled up 1,453 receiving yards his senior year and became an NCAA Division I-AA All-American. The Giants drafted Ponder, who has 4.4-second speed in the 40, in the sixth round (No. 199 overall) in 2003.

    Now, he's back in the Midwest. "My mom said it was good coming back to a place where I started, up (Interstate) 55 from Cape Girardeau," Ponder said.



    Comfort level

    Familiar faces greeted newly acquired cornerback Chidi Iwuoma when he arrived at Rams Park. Running backs coach Wayne Moses recruited Iwuoma out of Pasadena (Calif.) High for the University of California, and secondary coach Willy Robinson was a Steelers assistant in 2002 and '03 when Iwuoma was there.

    "I was happy to see both my old coaches. It's a good feeling," said Iwuoma, whose full name is pronounced CHEE-dee ee-WO-muh.

    Iwuoma, 28, was born in Los Angeles after his parents emigrated from Nigeria. He played at Cal and signed with Detroit in 2001 as an undrafted rookie.

    He spent four seasons with the Steelers, where the bulk of his action was on special teams he was the unit captain in 2004 and '05. He signed a free-agent deal with New England in the offseason, but was released after three games.

    Iwuoma, 5-9 and 184 pounds, tried out with the Rams on Nov. 3, but left town without a contract. "I started blowing the dust off my diploma," he said. "I was thinking about, what's the next move?"

    On Monday, the Rams made that decision for Iwuoma, signing him mainly for special-teams help and secondary depth. "You always wait for a call, and it came," he said. "I'm happy to be here."

    Pace's status

    Tackle Orlando Pace's torn left triceps muscle will be repaired during surgery that probably will take place Friday. He then will face six months of rehabilitation.

    "It's a tough injury," Pace said Wednesday. "I'm just ready to get back at it, as far as rehabbing, and hopefully I'll be back 100 percent next year."

    Pace, injured Sunday at Seattle, will miss his first Pro Bowl in eight years.

    Ram-blings

    Miller Career Academy's Rory Seals is the Rams' high school coach of the week. The Phoenix upended Westminster 24-14 last week for the school's first-ever playoff victory before falling to Ste. Genevieve 35-22 Monday in the Missouri Class 3 quarterfinals. The Rams Foundation and NFL Charities will make a $1,000 donation to the school's football program. ... Linebacker Raonall Smith, who suffered a cut upper lip and a chipped tooth Sunday vs. Seattle, was the only Rams player on Wednesday's injury report. He was listed as probable.


  2. #2
    ramsbruce's Avatar
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    Re: Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    I'm excited for Ponder, he did well for the Giants when he was there from what I remember.
    Quote Originally Posted by ramsbruce
    Tre was running great against an awful NYG run defense. 5.8 YPC yet he only gets 13 carries. I can't wait until the Rams abandon you, Schotty.

  3. #3
    r8rh8rmike's Avatar
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    Re: Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    Quote Originally Posted by ramsbruce View Post
    I'm excited for Ponder, he did well for the Giants when he was there from what I remember.
    I would love to see Ponder become a weapon, but I'll be happy if he can lock down the position, be consistant and give us one less thing to worry about. The revolving door policy and returner by commitee is maddening.

  4. #4
    BlueTalon's Avatar
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    Re: Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    At a minimum, he will be a decent answer to your revolving door situation, and has the potential to be better than just decent. He was right, it was just a numbers game due to injuries -- we would not have let him go otherwise. (The same is true of Kaz, but Kaz took it far more personally.)

    I wish him luck.

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    DieHard23's Avatar
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    Re: Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    the revolving door situation at kick returner can't be attributed solely to the returners themselves. the blockers have to do a better job of opening up holes. also, does anyone remember the kickoff returned for a touchdown by chris johnson last year? He ended up getting released because he couldnt find a spot in the crowded defensive backfield last year. Unforunately, i have to give ponder an even lesser chance of finding his way on the field on offense within the already overpopulated (albeit talent-rich) receiving corps. Hopefully it all works out.

  6. #6
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    Re: Team pins hopes on Ponder making many happy returns

    Quote Originally Posted by DieHard23 View Post
    the revolving door situation at kick returner can't be attributed solely to the returners themselves. the blockers have to do a better job of opening up holes.
    I'd have to agree with that with Reed, Curtis, and Fisher all having major problems, it seems the the problems may go a bit deeper...could be coaching, could be the execution, could be the return schemes, could be the past return men just weren't any good. With the signing of Ponder we will quickly find out since we know he has return skills.

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