ANAHEIM — H-back. It doesn't sound too scary. It's not like the coach said, "We want you to play nose tackle ." But the guy who plays this modified tight end position for the Rams always seems to end up sandwiched between a linebacker and a safety immediately after catching a pass.
Jim Price has paid the price all right. Last year in San Francisco, he caught a pass and took a shot from Dave Waymer's helmet to his lower leg. When he rolled over, he noticed the bone was trying to push its way through the skin above his ankle.
He left this year's exhibition opener in Seattle after getting a concussion while grabbing an 11-yard touchdown pass on a play he can't remember. At the moment, he's sporting a huge red-blue-black-purple-and-green badge of courage on his hip, the result of a collision--he can't remember which one--with a Raider while catching five passes for 40 yards.
What adventure in modern medicine awaits tonight when the Rams meet the Green Bay Packers?
But on the positive side, Price's catch-it-and-get-it-and-hang-on style has the normally taciturn Chuck Knox on the verge of gushing.
"He's had some tough catches in there, where it was bang-bang," Knox said. "You catch it, and then you're getting drilled. He's got a great feel for the passing game. His blocking has improved. He's been playing very, very well."
Wow, two verys .
"It's just a matter of concentration," Price said. "Of course there are times when you're not going to hang onto the ball. But I just go out and try not to worry about getting hit because you're going to get hit anyway.
"If I'm going to take that kind of punishment, I'm going to get a reception out of it."
Price, a free agent from Stanford who spent 1990 on the developmental squad, was just starting to dance to the Rams' passing-game choreography last year when he suffered a fractured right fibula during the third quarter against the 49ers on Nov. 25.
He already had five catches for 65 yards in that game, and in the seven games before the injury, he had caught 30 passes for 353 yards. He missed the last four games of the season after undergoing surgery and finished third on the team in receiving with 35 catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns.
"Jim (Everett) was starting to look to me a lot," Price said. "It was pretty bad timing, but that's football. It's the kind of thing almost everyone can expect to happen sometime in their career. Hopefully, I got mine out the way early."
Actually, it's not completely out of the way yet. Price thinks he may have pushed off that ankle too hard too many times in his attempt to come all the way back this summer. He's had a couple of setbacks in training camp and says he's still about two weeks away from being 100%.
"It feels pretty good, but I don't think it's quite strong enough for all the pushing I've been doing on it," he said. "I think once we get back into a one-a-day program, it will be fine."
Completely healthy or not, Price has picked up where he left off last winter. Last week against the Raiders, he caught five passes, all for first downs, three on third-down plays.
"One of the reasons they have me here is because they know that on third-down situations, I can get open, catch the ball and keep the offense on the field," Price said. "Especially around the goal line, you know, finding the holes in the zone and turning around and catching the ball."
He is making so many clutch catches that the inevitable comparisons to the revered Pete Holohan are surfacing. Holohan, who went to Kansas City via Plan B in 1991 and now is with Cleveland, was the Rams' No. 1 go-to guy in critical spots.
"They've been together for a while now, and I think Jim Everett is starting to perceive (Price) as that kind of guy," offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese said. "Now, whether he actually ends up having the same confidence in Jim Price that he had in Pete Holohan depends entirely on Jim Price and how well he continues to make the tough catches that allow you to make the first down and keep the ball.
"So far in the preseason, Price has done very well in that area. And he made some of those catches last season. If he can do that over a long period of time remains to be seen. (Everett) has to know he's going to make that catch every time, whether he's hurt or tired."
Everett, who rooms with Price on the road, prefers not to compare his former favorite target to the player who is bidding to become his new favorite.
"Pete Holohan has been gone from this offense a while, and Jim Price does his own thing," Everett said. "He's growing into his own mold. He does some things differently than Pete does, but he does play that type of role, and he does it well. He can catch the ball in traffic."
Price, however, has absolutely no qualms about being mentioned in the same sentence with Holohan.