Hall expected to spark Rams' return teams

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Return specialist/receiver Dante Hall made a one-handed grab during a passing drill Sunday at the Rams training facility in St. Louis. (TOM GANNAM ~ Associated Press)

The former Chiefs standout has 11 career touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns.

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams are looking for a good return on their investment in Dante Hall.

The Rams acquired Hall from the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft. Hall knows why the Rams wanted him.

"My thing is, I'm always looking for the home-run ball," Hall said Sunday, between workouts at Rams Park.

That's what the Rams want to hear.

St. Louis has struggled for years on punt returns, averaging 7.8 yards last season or sixth-worst in the league. They were also 26th in kickoff returns, averaging 21.3 yards.

St. Louis said goodbye to their main punt returner Shaun McDonald, who returned 25 punts last season for a 7.5-yard average. Also gone are Willie Ponder and J.R. Reed.

In their place will be the 28-year-old Hall, who knows how to find the end zone when returning the ball.

The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Hall has returned 11 kickoffs and punts for touchdowns in his seven-year career, including two kickoffs and two punts in 2003. Brian Mitchell holds the record with 14 kick-return touchdowns, followed by Eric Metcalf with 12.

"That's my only individual goal left that I'm focusing on," Hall said. "I want the all-time kick return record."

Hall also needs one more kickoff return for a touchdown to break the record of six he shares with Ollie Matson, Gale Sayers, Travis Williams and Mel Gray.

"It's a lot harder to get a kick return to the house than it is a punt return," Hall said.

For his career, all of it with Kansas City, Hall averaged 24 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return.

Certainly, Rams coach Scott Linehan is happy to have Hall on this side of the state of Missouri.

"One thing he gives you is he takes all that anxiety away about whether the ball is going to be caught," Linehan said. "I'm excited as everybody to see him go to work when we start playing games."

The Rams' last kickoff return for a touchdown was by Tony Horne and the last punt return for a touchdown was by Az-Zahir Hakim, both in 2000.

"That's not good," Hall said about the lack of returns for touchdowns. "That's why they traded for me. We're going to definitely get that turned around."

Hall said he likes working for special teams coach Al Roberts, who is new this year. He has adapted to Roberts' philosophy of getting at least 10 yards per punt return.

"I'm going to concentrate on getting 10 yards but at the same time, I'm going to do my thing and get it in the end zone," Hall said.

Hall was the NFL's top returner from 2002 to 2004. His production declined the last two seasons, though he had one punt return for a touchdown last season, on Oct. 1 against San Francisco. Still, the Rams believe Hall will boost their special teams and can be used as a slot receiver in the offense as well.

Hall likes to double as a receiver. He's been used as a receiver in addition to a return man for six of his eight years in the league, totaling 1,615 yards and nine touchdowns with six catches for 40 or more yards (three coming in 2002).

"I'm learned a lot from Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce every day," Hall said. "It's great to play with these guys and watch these guys, who in my opinion are two future Hall of Famers."

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