Wide receiver depth making a big difference

Friday, January 14, 2005

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Depth at wide receiver is bringing the St. Louis Rams closer to their glory days on offense.

The Atlanta Falcons' secondary will have more than the 1-2 punch of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce to contend with on Saturday night. Kevin Curtis is coming off his first career 100-yard game and Shaun McDonald also has been a threat, giving Marc Bulger four speedy targets.

The Rams (9-8) didn't have that firepower in Week 2 when they lost 34-17 at Atlanta (11-5). Adding the two second-year players to the mix has made them more dangerous.

''Shaun and Kevin really weren't a factor then,'' Bulger said. ''Now that we have four go-to guys it's going to be a nice luxury.''

Holt and Bruce combined for 183 catches, 2,664 yards and 16 touchdowns. McDonald was fourth with 37 receptions for a 13.4-yard average and three touchdowns, and Curtis was fifth with 32 catches, a 13.2-yard average and two scores.

Curtis has emerged the last two games. He caught four passes for 107 yards -- his first career 100-yard game -- in the Rams' 27-20 first-round playoff victory over the Seahawks. In the final week of the regular season against the Jets he caught six passes for 99 yards.

''Anytime you're in the action, it's obviously more enjoyable,'' Curtis said.

Rams coach Mike Martz has been raving about Curtis' blazing speed and route-running since taking him in the third round of the 2003 draft. He never got started his rookie season after a broken leg in the preseason, and this year shin splints slowed his progress for a time.

''I'm just glad it's behind me,'' Curtis said. ''I'm feeling healthy now.''

Curtis is accustomed to delays. He's old for a second-year player at age 26, because before becoming a star at Utah State he served a two-year Mormon mission.

He opened Martz' eyes when he caught 171 passes in two seasons at Utah State.

''You put the tape on and the first thing you would say was 'wow,''' Martz said. ''It didn't make any difference who he played, he was running by everybody.

''I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody in college that fast. I really mean that.''

Curtis used that speed for a 50-yard catch against the Seahawks.

''I know I'm not going to run one of them over,'' Curtis said. ''I think that's where I get my excitement, just trying to run over guys.''

Martz said for a speedy receiver, Curtis also runs precision routes. Curtis learns by watching Holt and Bruce.

''After watching them, I felt like I was running hard and pounding my feet hard,'' Curtis said. ''They're just smooth and fluid in the way they run and the way they make cuts. You can never tell when they're going to break.''

McDonald progressed from 10 receptions his rookie year to 37 this season. His 31-yard grab in the fourth quarter last week helped set up Bulger's game-winning touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland with 2:11 to go.

Those two are making things a little easier for Holt, who caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown last week. Bruce, hampered by a hip injury, caught four passes for 40 yards.

It's reminiscent of 2001 for Martz, when Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl also figured prominently in the game plan. That was the last of the Rams' run of three straight 500-point seasons.

''Mac and Kevin, they bring such a different dimension,'' Martz said. ''This is an entirely different team, but that type of feeling is starting to resurface again.''

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