Massey hopes to adjust to fullback in a snap

Friday, September 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Now it's the long snapper's turn to try his hand at fullback for the Rams.

Chris Massey takes no guff in his limited role, proudly hiking the ball on a line and taking care of the vital first step of a field-goal attempt or extra point, just before getting nailed by defenders keen on busting up the play.

"It's a little disadvantage when you've got your head down between your legs and you've got to get up and block, especially when they put the biggest guy over the top of you every single game," he says. "I try not to get bowled over, and I haven't gotten bowled over. They try, they try hard."

Now, it's Massey's turn to deal out some punishment.

Lamar Gordon played fullback the past two weeks after tight ends handled the duties in the opener. But now, the hand and knee injuries that will sideline Marshall Faulk for four to six weeks handed the tailback job to Gordon this week, and Massey is the next in line take over at fullback.

Even though he hasn't played that running position since high school, the 235-pound Massey has impressed coach Mike Martz with his strength and enthusiasm.

"I think he's a terrific lead blocker," Martz said. "He's one of the stronger players we have. That's why I have no reluctance to stick him in those roles."

Well, there is some reluctance. If Massey is hurt, who will do the long snapping? The Rams prized his ability so highly that they used a seventh-round draft pick on him last year just to snap.

"He's also, to me, the best long snapper in the league right now," Martz said. "He's outstanding."

Massey's response: I'll be fine.

"Coach Martz tries to protect me as much as he can, but sometimes you can't get away from it," he said. "I knew sometime during the season my chance would come. They know I can do the job."

Massey is the latest in a long line of fullback candidates to replace James Hodgins, who left for a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. The Rams will face Hodgins for the first time as an opponent Sunday.

Martz nicknamed the 270-pound Hodgins "The Hammer" during his time with the Rams.

"He can be devastating, and he knows our offense very well," Martz said. "I think we miss him a great deal.

"He had to go, and I don't blame him; I'd do the same thing. We just could not financially keep him here."

The Rams' loss has been the Cardinals' gain. Although Hodgins still hasn't had any carries this year, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass last week in an upset over Green Bay.

"I think James Hodgins is the best lead blocker in this league," Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said. "He used to hammer us twice a year when we were playing him, and when he was available we went after him hard.

"I promise you, Marcel Shipp and Emmitt Smith are happy to have him."

Smith said Hodgins reminds him of Darryl "Moose" Johnston, his fullback during his days with Dallas.

"I'll tell you, James Hodgins has made a great deal of difference in this club," Smith said. "He goes after it."

The fullback is used about a third of the time in the Rams' offense, and even then just to open holes. Massey got one start at fullback last season, and had one pass thrown his way that got knocked down. He never carried the ball.

"Fullbacks don't touch the ball much in this offense," Massey said. "I'm just happy to be lead blocking. I'm just as hard-nosed as anybody else in this room and I'm just eager to stick my nose in there."

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