The Rams, as intrepid as Sergeant Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounties, explored uncharted territory--and talent--Tuesday in the NFL draft.
In the first three rounds, respectively:
--They made offensive tackle Michael Schad of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, the first player from a Canadian school to be claimed in the first round in 51 years of the draft.
--Selected a guard-center, Tom Newberry of Wisconsin LaCrosse, from college football’s version of the five and dime store, Division III, in the second round.
--Traded backup quarterback Jeff Kemp to San Francisco and tentatively pinned their long-range hopes on third-round choice Hugh Millen of the University of Washington, whose best days must be ahead of him, since he has precious few behind him.
“That kind of completes the scenario,” Coach John Robinson said. “We got the maximum out of what we had available.”
The plan is for the two offensive linemen to reinforce what is still an effective but aging group. Tackle Bill Bain, 33, who went from all-pro in ’84 to nonstarter in ’85, may retire, and center Doug Smith, 29, was unable to finish last season because of mysterious numbness and dizziness that still has his future in doubt.
Robinson hopes that Millen’s arrival and a comeback by 33-year-old Steve Bartkowski will cool the quarterback controversy that has dogged the Rams since World War II.
“We hate to see Jeff Kemp go, but we felt we had to settle our quarterback picture in terms of present and future,” Robinson said.
The Rams took Millen with a third-round choice obtained from the 49ers for the Rams’ two fourth-round picks. They would have preferred to have been in position to take Jim Everett or Chuck Long in the first round but were unable to trade up. As it is, Millen is their highest quarterback draft since Ron Jaworski in the second round in ’73.
Robinson said that Millen was his choice on the second level of quarterbacks in the draft because of his 6-foot 5-inch size and potential.
“When you see him you’ll see what I mean,” said Robinson, who worked out Millen at Seattle last week. “I wasn’t sold on him until I went up there. Millen fits the image of what you want in a quarterback, physically, more than any of the others. The scary thing is that he hasn’t done it yet.”
Robinson said that because of injuries as a senior and being benched for two games as a junior, Millen has played the equivalent of only about 1 1/2 seasons.
“I’m really excited,” Millen said.
In a way, Kemp said, he was, too.
“I’m looking forward to getting involved in and running that offense,” he said of his move to the 49ers. “I think I can learn a lot from (Joe) Montana.”
Kemp is the son of Jack Kemp, a former pro quarterback who is now a U.S. congressman and a likely Republican presidential candidate for ’88. He arrived as a free agent from Dartmouth in 1981, became the Rams’ starter for most of the ’84 season when Vince Ferragamo was injured but started only one game in ’85 when Dieter Brock had a kidney stone removed.
Kemp is an unsigned free agent. He earned $155,000 last season. Technically, he can’t be traded without a contract, but Pat Haden, his agent, said that the Rams have agreed to sign Kemp to whatever terms Haden negotiates with the 49ers, then transfer the contract.
The Rams, of course, have already spent the draft choice.
Robinson indicated that Newberry, 6-1 3/4 and 275, could eventually be a nose tackle. The geography major from Wisconsin LaCrosse was an outstanding shotputter last year with a putt of 63 feet 4 inches.
“When I first looked at him I thought, ‘That s.o.b. would be a hell of a nose man,’ ” Robinson said.
But Schad was even more impressive. “When we began to look at him, our evaluation was that physically he’s the best line prospect any of us had seen,” Robinson said.
Still, in Tuesday’s draft there were several offensive linemen with more familiar names.
“It took some nerve by the organization to take him,” said Hudson Houck, offensive line coach.
But in a strong year for offensive linemen, Houck said, if Schad had played his college career in the United States “he’d probably be the best offensive lineman on the board.”
Schad first drew serious attention with his performance in the East-West Shrine game.
Robinson was most impressed, he said, when Schad talked about his first experience at that level of play.
“He said: ‘The external stimulation was different,’ ” Robinson said.
Houck said: “He has intelligence, size, speed and athletic ability. But what’s going to be fun is that he’s very eager to improve.”
Schad seems to realize the spot he’s on as a virtual unknown in the first round.
“I know there is a lot of speculation: ‘Can this kid from Canada play in the NFL?’ ” he said by phone from Toronto. “I’m glad the Rams have confidence. I have confidence in myself. I work hard at the game, and I’m sure I’m not gonna disappoint the Rams.
“Being a first-round pick (from Canada) is a total trend-setter. A lot of Canadians watch a lot of NFL football, and they’ve taken a particular interest in the Rams due to the fact that Dieter Brock (plays for the Rams). There’s going to be interest to see how a Canadian-bred is gonna do down in the States.”
Brock, of course, is from Alabama originally. Before Schad, the highest draft pick the NFL ever spent on a Canadian player from a Canadian school was an eighth when the Washington Redskins selected wide receiver Brian Fryer of the University of Alberta in 1976.
Robinson said: “Obviously, he comes from way behind in terms of experience, but he came down in the East-West game and was really outstanding. The things that we want an offensive lineman to do, he was really good.