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New Face Gives Rams a Run at Their Old Ways

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

As ordered by Coach John Robinson earlier this week, the Rams returned to the days of old Sunday, but used a new tailback to do it.

This time it was Greg Bell, who replaced the suspended Charles White, who had replaced the departed Eric Dickerson in the Ram evolutionary running chain.

Didn’t matter. If nothing else, the Rams have proven that their running game fits all sizes, from the graceful Dickerson, to the powerful White, to the combination of both--Bell.

All Bell did was take 27 handoffs, gain 139 yards and score once in the Rams’ 17-10 victory over the Detroit Lions at Anaheim Stadium Sunday afternoon. It was Bell’s first 100-yard game since 1985, when he wore a Buffalo Bill uniform.

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Now he’s a Ram, which means there’s plenty more from where that came from.

“I think it’s an opportunity to re-establish myself, really,” Bell said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m here. I’m going to carry the ball about 25 times a game. And I’m going to make good on those 25 carries. That’s what I plan to do. I mean, we’ve got the line, we’ve got the offense that can benefit me a great deal.”

About that offensive line. Robinson issued a pregame edict: He wanted improvement. Fast.

“We were disappointed last week when our offensive line did not block the way it is capable of blocking,” Robinson said. “That was one of our private goals that we set. We ran the ball better, kind of like we’re supposed to for the first time this year. That part we liked.”

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And he absolutely loved Bell’s performance, enough so that he abandoned a pregame promise to give rookie Gaston Green lots of playing time. Green finished with 1 carry for 3 yards. Maybe next week, Gaston.

“When I’ve got a tailback running hard and well, it’s hard for me to put somebody else in,” Robinson said, almost apologetically.

No apology needed, not after Bell’s day. In 10 weeks’ time--from the start of training camp to Sunday’s game--Bell has gone from a waiver wire candidate, to starter on an offense that revolves around the handoff.

Is Bell pleased? Let him count the ways.

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“To be frank, a lot of people questioned if I’d be here,” he said. “The question wasn’t whether I would make the team; the question was how many guys were they going to carry. I can look around 28 teams and I can point out 27 teams that I can play for. So I never really worried too much about where I could go or where I would play this year.

“But it’s a lot easier here than it was in Buffalo, mainly because I’ve got six guys in front of me.”

Those six guys would be the Ram offensive line, the target of Robinson’s mid-week anger. Robinson wanted a return to Ram brawn, of running an opponent into the turf. It is a familiar theme, the cornerstone of Robinson’s offensive philosophy. Turns out the lecture wasn’t wasted.

“We feel like we got something accomplished,” offensive tackle Jackie Slater said. “We got a back to go over 100 yards. You know, everybody said we couldn’t run the ball without Eric. Then they said we couldn’t run the ball without Charlie. We feel like we kind of got back, or on our way of getting back, to the kind offense that we want to be, which is not only a team that can strike from anywhere on the field, but that can hold onto the ball, get some first downs on the ground.”

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So enthused was Slater about the line’s play, that he delivered a prediction of sorts. Simply because of Robinson’s weekly desire to emphasize the running game, Slater said the Ram tailback--in this case, Bell--can expect lots and lots of yards.

“I dare say that (Robinson is) going to have one of the top two or three rushers in the NFL, just because of the sophistication he brings to the running game,” he said.

That’s fine with Bell, who said he can think of little wrong with his situation. The tailback position is his for the moment, the offensive line is rejuvenated, he spends most of his games on beloved grass rather than artificial turf and he’s healthy.

“Right now, I really think that I’m at a good point in my life,” he said. “A lot of guys say that when you get to your fifth year you’re reaching your peak. Hopefully, I’ve got another two years before I reach my peak.”

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As for the running back he replaced--White--Bell said he wishes nothing but a speedy recovery.

White received a 30-day suspension by the National Football League last week for an alcohol-related substance abuse.

“It’s unfortunate that Charlie’s not here,” Bell said. “Everybody here is with Charlie. I respect Charlie. I respect Coach Robinson. And I respect the way everyone is handling this situation.”


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