Waiting hands: McDonald, Curtis bide time behind star receivers

Friday, August 5, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since their rookie years, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald are healthy and looking to contribute to the St. Louis Rams offense.

Both were drafted in 2003 -- Curtis in the third round out of Utah State and McDonald in the fourth round from Arizona State.

The Rams believe the duo can be the replacements they have been seeking for Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl. Hakim and Proehl gave the offense solid threats to complement Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

Coach Mike Martz is happy to have both healthy and ready to go this season. He envisions using both in his wide-open offense.

"I think they have a full grasp of what we're doing," Martz said. "You can put them anywhere you want -- inside or outside or wherever. It's a great feeling to have those two guys."

The expectations have been high for both players since they joined the club. Unfortunately, both receivers sustained setbacks in their rookie year because of injuries.

Curtis, 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds with terrific hands, suffered a broken fibula and missed the first five games. McDonald broke a thumb and missed four games. Curtis saw action in just four games, catching four passes for 13 yards in 2003. McDonald, a 5-10, 183-pound speed merchant, played in 10 games, grabbing 10 catches for 62 yards.

In their second season, both contributed more to the offense while still trying to get completely healthy and learn the offense. Overall, Curtis ended last season with 32 catches for 434 yards and two touchdowns. McDonald caught 37 passes for 494 yards and three touchdowns.

Both players came on strong at the end of last season for the Rams.

In the wild 33-27 comeback victory in overtime at Seattle, Curtis caught a 41-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Rams within 27-24. In the NFC Wild Card victory over Seattle, Curtis caught four passes for 107 yards. In the next playoff game, a loss at Atlanta, Curtis filled in for Bruce, who was injured. Curtis made the most of his chance and hauled in seven passes, good for 128 yards including a 57-yard touchdown reception.

"I feel I like made progress especially towards the end of the year," Curtis said. "I was in the mix there. Now, I want to take it to the next level. I want to make plays for this team."

McDonald also made some big catches down the stretch last season for St. Louis. He caught a 31-yard pass in the playoff game against Seattle that came just before tight end Cam Cleeland's 17-yard touchdown reception that was the game-winner.

"I got in some big plays last year and I keep trying to prove that I belong out there," McDonald said.

In this offseason, McDonald had surgery on his left knee as he had his meniscus scoped.

"This is probably the healthiest I've felt in camp," McDonald said. "My knee is 100 percent."

The two soak up everything they can from Bruce, Holt and receivers coach Henry Ellard. They are not comfortable with what they have done. They want to keep getting better.

"Even when I'm on the sideline, it's great watching those two great receivers out there," McDonald said. "I learn by watching them a lot. Torry coaches me up. It's good that he cares enough to want you to be a good player. I try to imitate what they do. They're the best I've seen with my eyes."

Curtis agreed.

"I've learned more about football here than I have in my whole life," Curtis said. "Being around those two day in and day out, they take it to another level. Along with coach Ellard, there's three of the greatest receivers to ever play the game."

Holt said the pair is ready to go to the next level. They help keep him on his toes.

"Every year they're challenging me. They're coming to get my job, you know," Holt said chuckling. "So those guys, I appreciate the young boys because they are pushing us."

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