WHEN KEVIN CURTIS joined the St. Louis Rams in 2003 as a rookie wideout, he watched veterans Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce go about their business.
"Day 1 in the NFL, watching Isaac and Torry run routes, I thought that I played a different position," Curtis said yesterday, on his first visit to the NovaCare Complex since signing a 6-year, $30 million free-agent contract with the Eagles 2 weeks ago.
Holt and Bruce might have kept Curtis from winning a permanent starting job during his four seasons with the Rams, but he said they certainly helped him learn what it takes to be an NFL receiver. Curtis, who mostly played the slot in St. Louis, is now known as one of the league's best, most precise route-runners.
"I've really tried to focus on better technique and better route-running. I still feel like I've got a lot of room for improvement," said Curtis, who is expected to move outside, into a starting role, with the Birds. "Being around guys for the last 4 years who were such great route-runners made me want to be a lot better route-runner.
"There's a lot to it - the whole body language that you put out as you run routes. In college, there were things I never even thought of until I was around some of the pros I've been around. There's a lot you can do to not give any keys to the defense on when you're going to break down and change direction."
Receivers being where they're supposed to be is a big thing with quarterback Donovan McNabb. Freddie Mitchell's tendency to improvise was one reason McNabb never seemed to quite trust FredEx.
Curtis was asked whether he thought his attention to detail would help the process of synching up with McNabb.
"I think so," he said. "It's my job to be where I'm supposed to be. The quarterback has a million other things to worry about. That's a tough position, I don't know how they do it back there at quarterback. But that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to be where I'm supposed to be."
This is the best chance Curtis has ever had to be a starter, to prove he can move outside and put up the kind of gaudy yards-per-catch numbers top wideouts achieve (like the 19.1 recorded in 2006 by the guy he's replacing, Donté Stallworth). Curtis can hardly wait to get started.
"I want to prove that I'm the guy they think I can be," he said.
Curtis seems to be a quick study - he scored a 48 out of 50 on the NFL's Wonderlic intelligence test, the second-best score ever recorded, and highest among active players. The Eagles' version of the West Coast offense is different from the one run by the Rams, but Curtis probably can figure it out.
"I think for the most part, a lot of NFL teams are doing the same types of things. They [use different terminology]," he said. "It's just a matter of getting in and studying. The whole offseason, minicamps are key for me this year, to get in and kind of get in the system. I don't think it's too hard, once you get in and put in the work."
One complicating factor is McNabb's rehab from surgery to his anterior cruciate ligament. Though McNabb and coach Andy Reid said this week that McNabb's recovery is progressing well, he certainly won't be throwing to Curtis in the first minicamp, May 11-14. Reid said it will be a close call as to whether McNabb is ready when training camp opens in late July.
"Obviously, the sooner he's back, the better, especially for a guy like me, that hasn't played with him," Curtis said. "The biggest thing is, that's our guy. We want to make sure he's healthy and ready to go."
The Wonderlic always seems to get a lot of attention this time of year. There has been a debate over how much it really measures football intelligence. Curtis said that as he was taking the test, he had no idea he would go down in Wonderlic lore.
"I guessed on about five or six of those, and I think I got pretty lucky," Curtis said. "I didn't get to the last question [of 50]. So I only guessed wrong once."
Like many players, Curtis took the test a couple of times as he prepared for the draft, in which the Rams chose him in the third round, 74th overall (just 21 slots before the Birds took Billy McMullen). He said he had to take it again at the Utah State pro day, because scouts didn't believe the 48 tally from the scouting combine. He said a proctor actually sat next to him while he took it the final time, to make sure he wasn't cheating somehow.
"Each time it got easier. That last time, I actually finished it with a couple minutes to spare," Curtis said. "Honestly, I think anyone, the more you take it, the better you're going to do."
Curtis has endured a fair amount of kidding over being Mr. Wonderlic. He said Rams QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose Harvard background still produced only a 38, regularly questioned how he was outdone by someone from Utah State.
"I wish the Wonderlic score really meant I was smarter than him," Curtis said. *