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No Vacancies in Ram Backfield

Is Gaston green?

Is Cleveland harried?

And what of Greg Bell? For whom does he toil now?

Plan B dropped a Pandora’s Box on the doorstep of the Rams Friday when three-time Pro Bowl running back Curt Warner joined John Robinson’s already overcrowded offensive backfield. A team that got by for years with one running back now has six.

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Blame it on Bell. He keeps cranking out 1,000-yard seasons, but he can’t satisfy Robinson. He’s not big enough. He’s not strong enough. He’s not Eric Dickerson. He’s not Charles White.

So Robinson keeps bringing on challengers. Gaston Green in 1988. Cleveland Gary in 1989. And now Warner, the all-time leading rusher in Seattle Seahawks history, an all-purpose runner who has gained 6,705 yards in six NFL seasons.

Add fullbacks Buford McGee and Robert Delpino to the mix and the Rams have four too many backs for their starting lineup, unless Robinson is contemplating a switch to the wishbone.

More likely, Robinson is contemplating a trade. The Angels stockpile pitchers, the Rams stockpile running backs. But if the Rams are as adept at swinging a deal as their baseball neighbors, Robinson’s summer camp is bound to be long and hot and controversial.

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Warner wasn’t signed to round out the scout team. He may be coming off his least productive professional season--631 yards and a 3.3 per-carry average--and his skills may have diminished, but he’s still only 29 and he represents the kind of project that puts a spring into Robinson’s step.

When it comes to running backs, you can’t keep Robinson out of the thrift stores. Give him your tired, your run-down, your washed up. Robinson will give you a 1,000-yard rusher. He did it with White. He did it with Bell.

He needs to keep busy, so now he has Warner.

Friday, Robinson reveled in the acquisition. He called it “a dynamic type of move” and “maybe the single biggest move in Plan B (history).” It certainly involved the biggest name. When your first five Plan B signees are Henry Brown, Byron Darby, Wayne Davis, Hank Ilesic and Joe Milinichik, a Curt Warner, bad knees and all, is regarded as significant progress.

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It is also the Rams’ way of keeping up with the DeBartolos. Up in Dynastyville, the 49ers just swept nose tackle Fred Smerlas and cornerback Hanford Dixon off the Plan B rack. This had to sting the Rams, because the Rams’ two most pressing needs for 1990 are defensive linemen and cornerbacks.

The rich got richer, so the Rams figured they had to get someone. If Warner wasn’t necessarily the right man, well, he happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Warner was available because the Seahawks were beginning to phase him out. Fullback John L. Williams was beginning to carry more of the load and rookie tailback Derrick Fenner was beginning to cut into Warner’s playing time.

From 1988 to 1989, Warner’s rushing attempts decreased from 266 to 194. At the same time, his yardage dropped from 1,025 to 631. And that 3.3 per-carry average was nearly a full yard below his career standard.

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Warner can’t turn the corner anymore, scouts say. He’s mutated into a between-the-tackles kind of runner and Seattle already had one of those in Williams.

But between the tackles is where Robinson wants to live. His eyes glisten as he talks about backs who can dominate a game within those narrow boundaries. He wishes, aloud and often, that he had one.

Deep down, Robinson wishes he had Marcus Allen. Once upon a time, Warner was cut from the same mold--an all-purpose type who could run outside, inside and catch the football. Warner logged nearly 1,500 yards in pass receptions with the Seahawks.

Robinson, of course, had his chance at the pre-op, post-haste Warner. The Rams had their choice of running backs in the 1983 draft, Dickerson or Warner. The Rams chose wisely.

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Now, seven years later, they have their second choice, although Bell probably could have thought of another.

Camp life should be chock-full of suspense at Fullerton this summer. Bell withstood the bids of Green and Gary, but both were callow youths. Warner is a veteran of four 1,000-yard seasons. The heat will be on.

And, in all likelihood, someone will be gone. No team can keep four running backs happy. Maybe Bell will demand a trade. If not, Green may not be able to avoid one. A former first-round draft choice with minimal wear on the odometer--he was rarely driven, especially on Sundays--Green should have some appeal somewhere else.

Four Horsemen once played in South Bend, but don’t expect it to play in Anaheim any time soon.

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