The way things have gone for Flipper Anderson this football season, he might as well have been born with fins.
Yes, 1 is the loneliest number if you’re a professional receiver and that’s how many catches you’ve made in 7 games.
You don’t think Anderson remembers that big catch?
“It was Detroit, 21 yards,” he said. “It was a post pattern. I caught it, and we scored on that possession. I remember that.”
Like anyone else, Anderson loves a mystery. But not when the plot thickens around him. And this season has been a mystery. Anderson, a second-round choice from UCLA, was the hit of the Rams’ summer, catching 9 passes for 233 yards and 3 touchdowns in 5 exhibition games.
He made perhaps the best catch of any Ram in recent history with a dazzling 1-handed grab against Houston in August.
But then came the drought, better known to Flipper as the regular season. On the surface, nothing changed. Anderson was still the third receiver, running the same routes, just as frequently. Except, he was running alone.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “I play quite a bit on third down. I just don’t get the ball thrown my way. I don’t understand. It gets kind of frustrating, when you know you can perform but just don’t get the opportunity. That’s more frustrating than anything. It’s hard to do anything if you don’t get the ball thrown to you.”
Ram Coach John Robinson admitted this week that his team needs to spread the wealth around. When the regular season began, the Rams turned their attention away from the rookies and more toward veterans Pete Holohan, Damone Johnson and Henry Ellard, who has 31 more catches than Anderson.
“They’re going more to who they know,” Anderson said. “That hits it right on the head. In the preseason, there were a lot of young guys trying to show what they can do. I was a part of that. But when the regular season comes around, they try to put in the veterans, who really know what it’s all about. I just haven’t been able to get into a groove.”
And it’s not a groovy feeling, though Anderson hasn’t dared to complain.
“No, I haven’t talked to anyone about it, and they haven’t said anything to me,” he said. “I really couldn’t say anything about it. I’m just a rookie. I have to take it as it comes.”
Anderson usually has a pretty good idea about Sunday’s game plan by midweek, when offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese hands out the playbooks.
Anderson said you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, for a receiver’s fate on Sunday is always buried in the pages of the Zampese scrolls.
These days, Anderson lives for Wednesdays and the unsealing of the new book. Maybe there’s a play in there for him.
“You look for your number,” Anderson said. “We have certain plays geared for certain personnel. They have plays with me in there and me not in there. I know which plays I’ll possibly get the ball.”
In the meantime, Anderson runs his routes and dreams of the day when the quarterback checks off his primary receiver and hurls the football his way.
The thing is, Anderson might not know whether to catch the thing or report it as an unidentified flying object.
Just yesterday, it seems, Michael Stewart was a rookie in training camp, an eighth-round pick known to defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur as Fresno. When it comes to late-round picks, schools are more often remembered than names.
Well, Stewart, from Fresno State, is in his second season, and you can cut the raisin jokes, because he is the Rams’ new starting strong safety.
Filling in for an injured player wasn’t exactly the way Stewart wanted to crack the lineup, but that’s often how it happens in the National Football League.
So when a neck problem knocked Vince Newsome out for the season this week, Stewart became the man--ready or not.
“I’d better be ready,” Stewart said. “It’s a situation where you play at this level, at any time you can be the guy who’s called upon. As a player, you have to be ready to answer the bell, so to speak.”
Stewart, an imposing hitter, is much like Newsome in that regard. What he lacks is the experience with complicated defensive formations.
He doesn’t underestimate the loss of Newsome or the job ahead.
“Basically, it’s a devastating blow to our defense,” Stewart said. “And I know it is to Vince. My goal is to fill in and do the best I can, and hopefully fill that spot. . . . It’s a hard position, playing safety. You have a lot of different keys and reads you have to know. From a mental standpoint, you have to be on top of everything.”
Funny how things work out. Stewart, an outstanding college baseball player, dreamed of some day playing center field for the Dodgers.
Instead, he’s playing center field for the Rams.
So you want to be a football player? Linebacker Mark Jerue returned to practice Thursday after missing all week with flu that was probably triggered by last Sunday’s grueling day in the sun. Jerue was so dehydrated after the game that team doctors had to pack him in ice to reduce his body temperature. “It was like having no water in the radiator of your car,” Jerue said.
He lost so much body fluid that his heart rate jumped to 250 beats a minute near the end of the third quarter. Jerue said his rate is normally 85 to 90 after practice and a maximum of 200 after a game. “It was real dangerous,” he said. “They were real worried about me passing out or having a heart attack if it was up there too long.”
Jerue’s skin was so hot that he broke out in blisters, some of which remained on his face Thursday. Other than that, Jerue said he felt fine and is ready to start Sunday’s game against Seattle.
Linebacker Mel Owens’ ankle is still tender and he remains questionable for Sunday’s game against Seattle. . . . The Rams have activated safety Frank Wattelet for Sunday’s game. Wattelet, released before the season, was signed Thursday to replace Vince Newsome on the roster. Wattelet will take over special teams duties for Michael Stewart, who moves into Newsome’s starting spot at strong safety.