ST. LOUIS (AP) _ His right hand looks like a lobster claw, and underneath the bandages are stitches running almost the length of the finger.

That, however, is not stopping rookie Ernie Conwell, and the tight end is again part of the St. Louis Rams' passing game.

``Honestly, I didn't think I was going to throw to him at all because of the way his hand is,'' quarterback Tony Banks said. ``I'll have to throw to him a little more this week in practice.''

Together, Rams tight ends have just 18 catches for 166 yards and no touchdowns. That's a big comedown from last year, when Troy Drayton, who's now in Miami, caught 47 passes for 458 yards and four touchdowns.

Conwell, a second-round pick from Washington who has made seven starts, has the majority of the action with 10 receptions for 111 yards. And during Sunday's 20-10 loss to Carolina, he caught four passes for 54 yards.

Conwell wasn't expected to be much of a threat after he ruptured a ligament in his right finger during a loss to Pittsburgh Nov. 3. A pin was inserted in the finger.

He sat out the next game and returned for the Carolina game wearing a hard plastic splint around the last two fingers. He figured to be a blocker only, then started getting open and holding onto the ball.

``I knew it was going to be painful,'' he said. ``But each day I knew the finger wasn't getting any worse and I wasn't damaging it, so I started getting a little more confidence.

``On Sunday you just have to say `Hey, what the heck.' That's what your mouthpiece is for, to bite down on and keep going.''

Three of Conwell's catches came in the first half, including a 26-yard grab up the middle. Coach Rich Brooks said he was open in the second half, too, but Banks, another of the Rams' five rookie starters on offense, was off his game.

``I think Ernie really did some remarkable things,'' Brooks said. ``The catches he made were impressive given the injury and he continues to do some good things blocking.''

Conwell said he tried to cradle the ball on his receptions, using his forearms, arms and chest.

``It is really the way they don't want you to catch the ball, but you have to just get the job done,'' he said.

Blocking was perhaps even tougher because grabbing and holding is such a big part of technique. He tried to grab with his left hand and push with the palm of his right hand.

``You're not blatantly pulling the guy down tackling them, but that's the name of the game,'' Conwell said. ``Hands inside, trying to grab a guy, trying to steer him around, and I really couldn't do that.''