Rams May Spring Everett on the Patriots : High-Priced Quarterback Will Make Long-Awaited Debut This Week or Next

Times Staff Writer

If you're not watching closely, you might miss it.

Ram Coach John Robinson, in a covert quarterback operation, plans today, well, then again it could be next week, to sneak rookie Jim Everett in and out of the lineup while no one's looking.

Yes, it could happen against the New England Patriots at Anaheim Stadium, or a week from today in the same place against New Orleans.

No one's telling. Not Robinson. Not Everett.

Is this a great way to sell a game or what? Would P.T. Barnum be proud?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it could happen right before your eyes before halftime while you're out for a hot dog. Or not at all.

Robinson's "plan" is to ease the rookie quarterback as safely as he can into the lineup, so as not to expose Everett to too much pressure right away. The only way to determine whether this might be the week is to take a look at the evidence.

Clue: Everett has been feverishly practicing with the first-team offense all week, splitting time equally with today's starter, Steve Dils.

Clue: While the Patriots are a Super Bowl team, their defense is without menacing All-Pro linebacker Andre Tippett, the AFC's quarterback sack leader last season with 16.5.

Tippett is still three weeks from playing after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

Clue: Robinson's response to Tippett's absence, which was, "Tippett isn't playing, that doesn't break my heart. You hear that he's at the level of a Lawrence Taylor. I think that's true."

Clue: The Rams are coming off a shutout loss against New Orleans, a game in which the offense gained just 172 yards, the lowest output of the season.

"I don't know if this is the week," Everett said. "But I'm prepared for it to be."

It's probably safe to say that the Patriots will be all right no matter who the Rams play at quarterback.

Remember, these are the defending AFC champions, who have played remarkably well in light of all the post-Super Bowl, drug-related distractions.

"It happened," wide receiver Stanley Morgan said. "We had no control over it. We had to put it out of our minds and just go out and play football."

The Patriots have done that.

Quarterback Tony Eason is a year older, wiser and better. He's the NFL's second-rated passer with a rating of 98.9, trailing only Ken O'Brien of the New York Jets. Eason has thrown only two interceptions all season.

This, with backup quarterback Steve Grogan calling all the plays.

A backup quarterback calling the plays?

"Grogan is unique," Patriot Coach Raymond Berry said. "The whole situation is unique, otherwise we wouldn't be able to do it."

In other words, Grogan isn't the type of guy to call a few quarterback draws to get himself back in the lineup.

Eason's maturation has been helped along by the return of Morgan as one of the game's true stars.

Morgan, the 10-year veteran from Tennessee, is having his best season as a pro. He already has 50 receptions for 901 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Ram cornerback LeRoy Irvin referred to Morgan's resurgence as "coming back from the dead."

Morgan has lost 10 pounds this season and finally had surgery to repair a pinky finger that had caused him great pain for years.

"It's made all the difference in the world," Morgan said. "I can watch the ball more and concentrate without going through the pain. The last three, four years, I altered the way I caught the ball, which caused me to drop some balls I normally wouldn't drop."

Irvin said the return of a healthy Morgan gives the Patriots the best pass and receiving corps in the NFL.

Remember, Eason already has Irving Fryar and Stephen Starring to choose from.

It should be quite a test for the Rams' No. 1-ranked defense.

"These are the games I live for," Irvin said. "When I hear matchups like 'Irvin vs. Morgan,' I really get jacked up. It's good for me. I call myself one of the best, and I've got a chance to prove it. Going against Morgan is a good test to see where I stand against the other corners in football."

Berry, on stopping Eric Dickerson: "There are a lot of heart palpitations and shortness of breath. It occurs for the head coach every time the quarterback hands off the ball to Dickerson."

Dickerson continues to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,198 yards but has fumbled 13 times in 10 games. The Rams lead the NFL with 19 fumbles.

Kevin House has replaced Michael Young as the Rams' third wide receiver.

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