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Kennison Emerging Quickly as Top Return Threat

October 2, 1996

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Lawrence Phillips is off to a rocky start in the NFL, but Eddie Kennison, the St. Louis Rams’ other first-round draft choice, is fast becoming one of the league’s top kick returners.

And fast is the operative word for Kennison, a burner from Louisiana State. In a 31-28 loss to Arizona Sunday, Kennison averaged 32 yards on four punt returns, including a 66-yard return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

He’s also shown signs of developing as a receiver, something the Rams badly need with Alexander Wright injured. Kennison caught a 34-yard touchdown pass in the loss to the Cardinals, though it was his only catch of the day.

``We felt all along he could be a special guy on punt and kickoff returns,″ coach Rich Brooks said. ``If we didn’t feel that way we never would have traded Todd Kinchen.″

The Rams cleared the way for their first-round picks by trading Jerome Bettis to Pittsburgh and Kinchen to Denver _ both for draft picks. Phillips has been a disappointment, rushing for just 110 yards in the first four games and averaging only 2.2 yards per carry.

But Kennison leads the NFC with a 20-yard average per punt return and is averaging 19 yards on kickoff returns.

Quiet and unassuming, Kennison seems uncomfortable accepting accolades.

``I’m not THE guy,″ he said. ``Without those 10 guys out there on the field, I wouldn’t be able to do it.″

Special teams coach Nick Aliotta expects even better things to come.

``I think it’s a maturity thing. I hope he sees it this way _ there’s a long way to go. As he learns to make decisions, he’s going to get better and better,″ Aliotta said.

There have been mistakes _ catching a punt at the 5 instead of letting it bounce into the end zone, running the opposite way from his blockers. But Kennison, who held out in a contract dispute for much of the summer, is still learning the Rams’ system.

``I’m getting to a situation where I’m relaxed,″ he said. ``The entire unit has a confidence level because we know good things can happen.″

As for the touchdown, Kennison said there may be more to come.

``We think we can still do it a couple more times this year,″ he said.

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