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Rams sign insurance at kicker for Sunday

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  • Rams sign insurance at kicker for Sunday

    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Thirteen months ago in St. Louis, Jeff Chandler kicked a field goal and three extra points for San Francisco against the Rams. But he was released a couple of days later and has yet to kick in another NFL regular-season game.

    That could change Sunday in Miami. Because of concerns over kicker Jeff Wilkins' left ankle injury, the Rams signed Chandler to their active roster Wednesday.

    Chandler doesn't know if he'll be kicking against the Dolphins.

    "They haven't told me anything yet," Chandler said. "I'm sure they're going to wait and see how Jeff's ankle kind of heals up. If they need me, I'll be ready. That's just kind of the kicker's life. Whenever it's your time, it's your time."

    Wilkins was listed as questionable on the Rams' Wednesday injury report. A questionable designation means a player has a 50-50 chance of playing in that week's game.

    An MRI exam showed no structural damage to the ankle, which is on Wilkins' "plant" leg - or his non-kicking leg. But Wilkins was at Rams Park for treatment Wednesday, even though the team did not practice.

    Wilkins suffered the injury making a touchdown-saving tackle following his first kickoff in Monday night's 28-21 victory over Tampa Bay. He received treatment on the sidelines by team medical officials and continued kicking. But it seemed obvious that the ankle was bothering him on his two field goal attempts against the Buccaneers. He was well short from 56 yards on the last play of the first half, and missed wide right on a 44-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter.

    Until Monday, Wilkins hadn't missed two field goals in the same game since December 2001 at Carolina, when he missed a pair of 45-yard attempts. He has been on a tear since late in the 2002 season. Beginning with three field goals against Arizona in Game 14 of the '02 season, Wilkins had made 57 of 62 field goals in the regular season and playoffs before Monday.

    Last season, Wilkins tied an NFL record originally set by Miami's Olindo Mare, by kicking 39 field goals. Sunday's game figured to be a matchup of two of the league's premier kickers. Now, neither may suit up. Mare already has been ruled out for the Dolphins with a left calf injury and will miss his third consecutive contest.

    Chandler worked out last week for the Dolphins, who signed Matt Bryant instead. Two other kickers who attended the tryout in Miami also were on hand Wednesday at Rams Park: Bill Gramatica and Tim Duncan. They both spent part of last season kicking for the Arizona Cardinals.

    "So it's just kind of like a traveling band of kickers," Chandler said. "We all know the business. There's no hard feelings when one of us gets the job, and the other ones don't. You've just got to put in your time and have faith something will break for you. Luckily enough, this time it's my turn."

    Gramatica and Chandler kicked during the same session Wednesday at Rams Park. Because of travel problems, Duncan arrived a little later. Chandler kicked about eight to 10 kickoffs, and about 15 to 20 field goals for the Rams, with the longest field goal attempt coming from 51 yards.

    "You don't get that many opportunities, so you've got to make the best of 'em," Chandler said. "I felt good leading up to this. I felt like I was kicking the ball well. I've tried my hardest to stay in shape."

    Chandler, 25, was a fourth-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2002. At the University of Florida, Chandler was the Gators' career scoring leader (368 points) and kicked a school-record 67 field goals.

    As a rookie, Chandler was inactive for the *****' first 11 games, but then took over the kicking duties from Jose Cortez. Chandler went eight for 12 on field goals during the 'Niners' final six regular season games and went three for three in the playoffs.

    Despite making six of seven field goals at the start of the '03 season, he was cut after the *****' 27-24 overtime loss to the Rams on Sept. 14, 2003 at the Edward Jones Dome. He missed a 43-yarder in that game.

    "They never really gave me an answer why," Chandler said. "They said we need to make a change. So I don't know. There was a lot going on there, I guess, that I didn't understand. You just kind of move on and hope something else happens."

    The Rams will know more by the end of the week, but there's a chance Chandler will be kicking in his home state on Sunday. He's from Jacksonville, Fla. By late Wednesday afternoon, he was fielding calls from friends in Florida, seeking tickets to the Rams-Dolphins game.

    "They're all trying to plan a trip down there," he said.