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Rams' Kinchen Gets Back in the Running : Football: Injuries kept him down, but the receiver is healthy now and ready to contribute.

October 27, 1993|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — It was a routine slant pattern, one that Ram receiver Todd Kinchen had run dozens of times in practice.

It was a routine catch, a routine seven-yard gain, but it was anything but routine for Kinchen.

It was his first NFL catch, which gave the Rams a key first down in a fourth-quarter touchdown drive Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

And more importantly, it marked his progress in a long, tedious comeback from knee surgery.

"It was incredible just to get that over with," Kinchen said. "It has been a year and a half of a lot of frustration and injuries. Just to get the first one took a big load off my back."

By game's end, Kinchen had caught four passes for 60 yards, all from backup quarterback T.J. Rubley, who had been throwing to Kinchen on the scout team.

"We spent a lot of time together last year on the scout team and since I've been back," Kinchen said. "He knows my timing, and I know his. That helped out a lot."

With Kinchen in the lineup returning punts and catching passes, he no longer will be one of the league's best-kept secrets.

He flashed his potential as a rookie in last season's finale against Atlanta, when he became only the sixth player in league history to return two punts for touchdowns in a game.

Now, he's the team's No. 3 receiver behind Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard.

"Todd is going to be a fine player in this league," said Milt Jackson, Ram receivers coach. "He has great hands and has great running ability once he catches the ball. He's strong and has great jumping ability."

But all those skills were put to rest last April when Kinchen injured his knee during a pickup basketball game in Nashville.

He doesn't remember exactly how he did it, or when. He just remembers it began swelling a few hours after the game.

"It wasn't an acute injury, but it just kept bothering me," he said. "I finally got it looked at, and they diagnosed rest for it.

"When mini-camp came around last spring, I was ready to play on it, but it was still hurting."

Kinchen missed the Rams' May mini-camp. Then Ram physician Clarence Shields discovered the lower end of Kinchen's femur (thighbone) was cracked. Shields fused the bone using arthroscopic laser surgery.

Estimated time of return: Aug. 1.

"I came back, and after the first couple of practices, it was hurting a lot," Kinchen said. "I had to back off."

Estimated time of return: Sept. 1.

"I tried to play," he said, "but I still needed to rest another month before it started to feel better."

Ram coaches named Kinchen the No. 3 receiver despite his injury, a move that helped him deal with his lengthy recovery.

"In the last stages of the injury, it was becoming more and more frustrating," he said. "We were all having trouble figuring out why there was so much pain for so long. A lot of things go through your mind, especially in the NFL, being hurt and coming back and losing your job."

Jackson said the coaching staff reassured Kinchen that his knee would be fine, and his role was secure.

Kinchen had been through this before. He underwent surgery to repair damage to his anterior cruciate ligament during his freshman year at Louisiana State, and broke his collarbone as a junior.

"There were a lot of setbacks in college," he said, "so I guess I'm used to it."

Strange as it seems, it took an injury to get Kinchen into Sunday's game. Anderson left in the second quarter with a sore back, and Ram coaches held him out of the second half. Enter Kinchen, who suddenly became a factor when Rubley replaced starter Jim Everett in the third quarter.

Kinchen's first two catches kept Ram drives alive in the fourth quarter. His first, the seven-yard slant, came on third and four at the Ram 26. His second, for 16 yards, came on third and 10 at the Ram 44. He also had a 13-yard reception on the drive, that ended in a four-yard touchdown pass from Rubley to Ernie Jones.

"I was so much more relaxed in the game after that first catch," Kinchen said. "That was my first reaction after the catch: I can relax now.

"My second reaction was that I was very, very tired. I hadn't been able to run for the last four months. That was a big thing. I was sucking air out there."

The Rams were in their two-minute offense on their final two drives, and Kinchen was struggling to keep up.

"I was having a lot of trouble getting open and running patterns at the end of the game," he said. "Usually, it's my forte because I'm usually in good shape."

Although his knee is 100%, Kinchen estimated his conditioning at 70%. Most of his rehabilitation for the knee injury was rest, and he thinks it will take some time to get back in game shape.

"That was the thing that hurt me the worst--the rest," he said. "I couldn't aggravate it by running, so I could only sit and watch. You just get more and more out of shape.

"That's the biggest thing ahead for me right now. I just have to stay motivated and practice hard."

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