Curtis earning rave reviews

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Kevin Curtis missed the opening act of the aerial circus known as the Greatest Show on Turf. He was in the London area at the time, serving a two-year Mormon mission.

He didn't watch any television in England and, apparently, couldn't find a Pro Football Weekly. It was only when he returned to the States that he learned the Rams had gone from worst to first in the 1999 season to win Super Bowl XXXIV over Tennessee.

Curtis made this discovery in July 2000 during a layover at Lambert Airport in St. Louis. At that time, a highlight film of the Rams' Super Bowl championship season ran almost continuously at Lambert.

"After watching that in the airport, I realized they threw the ball, and they're an exciting team to watch," Curtis said.

A third-round draft pick by the Rams in 2003, Curtis now has a chance to star in a revival tour of the Greatest Show. Between 1999 and 2001, the Rams scored 500-plus points an unprecedented three consecutive seasons. The key to those teams was the multiple options in the passing game. Not just Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Marshall Faulk, but complementary receivers Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl.

Hakim and Proehl are long gone, but the development of Curtis and fellow '03 draft pick Shaun McDonald potentially gives the Rams the kind of multiple options they haven't had since the glory days of the Greatest Show.

"We've still got Isaac and Torry here," Curtis said. "That's a big part of it. I think me and Shaun can both complement them. We've got [Dane] Looker as well. It's an exciting offense. And the more plays we can make, it kind of opens it up."

A broken leg in preseason limited Curtis to four games and four catches as a rookie in '03. Shin splints bothered him early in the '04 season, but Curtis closed strong. With Bruce ailing late in the '04 campaign, Curtis caught 17 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in a three-game span that encompassed the Rams' regular-season finale and their two playoff contests.

The touchdown, a 57-yard catch-and-run job in the team's playoff loss to Atlanta, showcased Curtis' elite speed because highly touted Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall couldn't catch him.

"I've seen [the play] a few times," Curtis said. "I kind of slowed down at the end. I'm kind of upset I slowed down because he ended up kind of grabbing me at the end. It kind of looks like he caught me."

Curtis' reputation is growing around the league, but he still surprises people with his speed.

"I think so," he said. "Last year was my first year to really get out there playing. So no one really knows who I am. I don't think anyone is expecting much from me, being down that first year. So I can surprise people. It's all the better for me. If they're not expecting me to be very fast, it can only help me."

But the secret's getting out.

After a strong preseason, in which Curtis gained 21.3 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns, he opened the regular season with seven catches for 63 yards against San Francisco.

In the second game of the regular season, a 17-12 win over the Cardinals, Curtis contributed two receptions for 29 yards, including one catch for 23 yards.

Head coach Mike Martz went so far late in the preseason as to compare Curtis favorably with stalwarts Bruce and Holt.

"I think he's on par with them, I really do," Martz said. "I think those three are very comparable receivers. I think right now, he's at that level."

Which is high praise considering Bruce is the NFL's career leader in receiving yards among active players, and Holt is a four-time Pro Bowler.

"I've done very little compared to those guys," Curtis said. "I've got a lot to prove to be up in that status. It's a nice thought, though."

But there's no doubt that Curtis is an emerging -- at times, electric -- player.

"He's definitely come a long way from where he was two years ago," QB Marc Bulger said. "But to do what Torry and Isaac have done, it's a different level. It's Hall of Fame level. He's headed that way if he keeps improving."

Martz craves speed and says Curtis has "extreme" speed. Curtis was timed in 4.37 seconds (electronic) at the NFL Scouting Combine coming out of Utah State. After two years at Snow Junior College in Utah, Curtis had a scholarship offer to Brigham Young. But he decided to go on his mission.

When he returned, the BYU offer was gone, so he walked on at Utah State.

The mission might have delayed his football career, but it doesn't seem like it matters much at the moment. Besides that extreme speed, Curtis now grasps the intricacies of the complex Martz offense. He runs better routes.

And despite his modest frame, he's a willing downfield blocker.

"Mentally I'm a lot different player," Curtis said. "Coming out of college, I think that's the biggest change in the pros -- the mental side of the game. Everyone's so much smarter.

Everything's got to be more precise and exact. ... The knowledge I've gained the last two years in football exceeds probably the knowledge I've had my whole life."

Jim Thomas covers the Rams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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