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He Can’t Catch a Break, but He Can Catch Ball : Rams: Rookie receiver Chris Brantley’s bad luck hasn’t kept him from making an impression.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t blame Ram rookie wide receiver Chris Brantley for being a little paranoid, wondering if an anvil is dropping from a fourth-story window above him or a runaway truck was coming his way.

With the exception of accident-prone Deral Boykin or the injured Fred Stokes, nobody has had a tougher, or at times more painful, training camp than Brantley, a fourth-round draft pick from Rutgers.

His rude welcome to the NFL has included:

--Getting knocked goofy while running a pass route in pre-camp workouts and having to be helped off the field.

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--Suffering a hamstring pull early in training camp, limiting his workouts until the first exhibition game two weeks ago at Green Bay.

--Finally getting in the Green Bay game, and getting knocked senseless again trying to make a catch on a sideline route.

“I would say the hit at Green Bay was my rudest awakening,” Brantley said, shaking his head. “The ball was a little high, and the safety came through and caught me right in the ear. It knocked my earring off.”

But a week later, Brantley ran that same route twice against New England--with different results.

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One led to a 39-yard reception from Chris Chandler on a key third-down play that set up Tony Zendejas’ 41-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Another resulted in a 28-yard catch that was called back on an illegal formation penalty.

By game’s end, he had two catches for 51 yards and had returned a punt 11 yards. Suddenly, he finds his stock rising on a team in desperate need of big-play wide receivers.

The Rams failed to trade for Dallas’ Alvin Harper or sign free-agent Haywood Jeffires in the off-season, leaving them with a rag-tag group of veterans and two promising rookies--Brantley and second-round pick Isaac Bruce of Memphis State.

At this point, Brantley appears to have edged ahead of Bruce, who has caught one pass for 23 yards in the two games. Brantley has three catches for 60 yards.

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“He and Isaac are two completely different players,” receivers coach Steve Moore said. “He does more things than Isaac, but I wouldn’t say Chris is further along than Isaac.”

Moore likes Brantley’s quickness and ability to get open--skills he developed at Rutgers, where he led the team in receiving last season with 56 catches for 589 yards and seven touchdowns.

“I’ve improved that since I got here,” Brantley said, “but I ran pretty good routes in college, too. I had a really good receivers coach in Mose Rison, (cousin of all-Pro receiver Andre Rison of Atlanta), and Steve Moore has worked with the best, guys like Steve Largent, so I can learn a lot from him.”

Brantley knows he was drafted into the perfect scenario, joining a team with a high-percentage passer in Chris Miller and a receiver corps with depth, but not breakaway speed. It’s a land of opportunity, and Brantley knows he will get his shot.

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“As long as I keep playing well, the coaches will put me where I should be,” he said. “There’s not really a spot for me to jump into right now, but if I keep progressing, there will be.

“It’s wide open, but we have some pretty good receivers, so there’s some competition there.”

Rookie mistakes kept Brantley, 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, out of the running early. He said he pulled his hamstring chasing down a ball in practice because he didn’t warm up properly.

“I was a little tight,” he said. “Since then, I’ve learned from Flipper Anderson and Jessie Hester to gauge myself in practice. That’s not to say they’re not going 110% in practice, but they know how to gauge themselves in practice so they don’t hurt themselves.”

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Moore said Brantley tried to come back too early from the hamstring injury, re-injuring it in practice and forcing him out of the lineup again.

“That is customary of achievers,” Moore said. “That put him a little further behind. He’s back now, but he’s still not 100%.”

Even when he was out of the lineup, Brantley was still active in practice--asking questions, watching routes and . . . helping coach?

“Yeah, he was helping out,” Moore said. “He knew all of our adjustments and audibles, even though he wasn’t taking a snap. He caught things other players missed when I was coaching on the other side.

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“I thought he was after my job for a while.”


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