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Ellard Turns Producer: Transforms Short Pass Into TD Spectacular

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Ellard, 64 pass from Brock (Lansford kick).

In this morning’s scoring summary, it looks like just another bomb that went for a touchdown. That play is so common in this age of the very-far-forward pass, you can’t even be guaranteed of making the halftime highlights of Monday Night Football with a long touchdown pass anymore.

But Sunday’s Dieter Brock-to-Henry Ellard pass play was no ordinary 64-yard touchdown, mainly because Ellard is an extraordinary receiver who does a lot more than make a pretty catch and tiptoe out of bounds when he gets his hands on the ball.

Consider this play at Anaheim Stadium:

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The Rams were faced with a third-and-12 situation at their 36-yard line early in the second quarter. Brock took his drop and fired a short pass to Ellard, who was running a simple out pattern yards short of the first down.

Bring in the punting unit, right?

Not this time.

Ellard made the catch, noticed he was short of the first down, reverse-pivoted away from Atlanta safety Tom Pridemore, made two more subtle-but-effective moves to elude would-be tacklers, picked up good blocks from Mike Young and Tony Hunter and sprinted into the end zone to put the Rams up for good, 7-3.

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It was the “big play” that coaches always talk about and this one was made even bigger from a psychological standpoint because the Falcons were in a defense designed to stop Eric Dickerson and dare the Rams to pass.

“It was a bad play on our part because we missed some tackles,” said Pridemore, who was trying to cut Ellard off at the sideline and then slipped and fell when Ellard spun to the inside.

“Our defense today left us in man-to-man coverage a lot,” Pridemore said, “but that’s not taking anything away from Ellard. He’s a great receiver, a great punt returner and he knows which direction to go once he’s got the ball.”

Ellard, in fact, said the play was more like a punt return than a pass reception.

“One thing you learn as a punt returner is to catch the ball and move ,” Ellard said. “After that, it’s all reactions and instincts.

“I caught the ball and figured I was about four yards short of the first down. The defensive back (Pridemore) was trying to cut me off, so I just wheeled back to the inside, hoping to get enough for the first. After that, I remember making a move on one guy, but basically it was just a matter of running for the daylight.”

Ellard, for one, hopes this marks the dawn of a new balanced offense for the Rams. He certainly did his part Sunday, catching five passes for 123 yards.

“We proved today that we’re not as one-dimensional as some people think,” Ellard said.

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Eight-yard sideline patterns turned into 64-yard touchdowns may not make anyone forget Dan Marino-to-Mark Clayton, but even Ram Coach John Robinson is willing to admit it’s a step in the right direction.

“I don’t think anyone’s proven we are a one-dimensional team,” Robinson said, “but, sure, we’d like to get the ball into Henry’s hands more often. He had a really great day today and we’ve always known he was a great broken-field runner.”

Ellard has been a game-breaker since the day he stepped on a football field. In four years at Fresno State, he caught 138 passes for 2,947 yards (he’s sixth in career receiving yardage in NCAA history) and 39 touchdowns. In his two years with the Rams, he has returned three punts for touchdowns and turned seven of his 64 catches into scores.

“I was stuck in this mode where I’d get three catches every game,” Ellard said. “It feels good to play more of a part. And if teams are going to play us one-on-one, this might be just the beginning.”

Ellard and his fellow receivers were excited about the prospects of this game because they knew they would be facing less zone pass defense than usual.

“We were talking before the game and the coaches reminded us that one missed tackle might mean we could go all the way,” Ellard said.

Voila!

“Dieter’s settling in and making good decisions and we’re getting a feel for each other, now,” Ellard said. “You can’t blame teams for trying to stop Eric, he’s a great weapon. But we’ve proven we can score by the pass, too, and I think people have got to consider us a Super Bowl contender now.”

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