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Stage Is Set for Lyght’s Signing : Football: Broncos sign Croel, effectively setting the market price for the Rams’ No. 1 pick, who shares the same agent.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Robinson, who, of course, isn’t following the Rams’ negotiations to sign Todd Lyght closely at all , had only one question when he greeted the media Friday.

“What did Croel sign for?”

Robinson had been waiting for the Denver Broncos to sign linebacker Mike Croel, thus setting the stage for the Rams’ deal-making with No. 1-pick Lyght, who was taken one pick after Croel.

Croel and Lyght share the same agent, Bob Woolf, and Woolf has let it be known that Lyght won’t sign for anything that isn’t in the same neighborhood as Croel got from Denver.

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Woolf and the Rams, meanwhile, have held exploratory talks, but both sides knew nothing would happen until Croel’s deal set the market price for Woolf clients taken in the first five picks.

Friday, Croel and his agent agreed to a deal with the Broncos.

Friday, Robinson wanted to know the numbers, and made no response when he was told it was a five-year package reportedly worth $1.3 million per season.

As the Croel deal came to a close this week, Woolf suggested that a nice number for Lyght would be around $1.25 million per season.

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A response from Rams management was not forthcoming Friday, but they currently are offering Lyght $900,000 per year. When the $1.3-million figure was circulating earlier this week, the Rams weren’t exactly jumping for joy.

Does Robinson think Croel’s signing means Lyght will sign soon?

“Would you like to ask me about the peace talks with the Palestinians?” Robinson said, shrugging. “I don’t know.”

Robinson has repeatedly said Lyght has to be in soon or risk losing any chance to begin the season as a starter, and possibly is jeopardizing a chance to play any kind of significant role this season.

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After hearing about the Croel deal Friday, Robinson repeated it one more time.

Center Tom Newberry arrived from his home in Florida Friday morning, signed his four-year, $2.95 million contract, took a quick physical, then zipped into uniform and onto the Rams’ practice field.

He missed 23 days of training camp, and said he hadn’t snapped a ball since the Rams’ pre-training camp week of workouts in July.

Newberry, who is moving from guard to center this season, said he, like Robinson, fretted that a prolonged holdout could threaten his ability to make the change. But he said he was confident that his agent, Greg Campbell, would get him signed by this week.

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“I was worried a little bit about it, but my agent was pretty optimistic that I’d be in for these three games, and three preseason games is a pretty good amount of time to be working and get a chance to play enough,” Newberry said after practice.

“So I didn’t really sit at home and agonize about it, I just worked out and hoped for the best.”

Newberry, who reported about 12 pounds heavier than last year’s playing weight of 290 and said he probably will keep the weight on, rotated with Doug Smith at center Friday. Newberry said he felt in good enough shape to play some in Monday night’s exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers.

“I’ve got to get the mental point down, as far as walking in today with no meetings, kind of in the dark on the plays and what was changed from minicamp,” Newberry said. “But in a couple days, that’ll be all cleared up, and I think it’ll be smoother.”

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Robinson said Friday he hoped to get Newberry some significant playing time Monday.

Pete Holohan is gone, and so are the 49 passes he caught last season as quarterback Jim Everett’s most dependable third-down target.

With Holohan out of the picture and Jim Price, his replacement at H-back, still an NFL neophyte, Robinson is suggesting that he’d like tailback Cleveland Gary to take up at least some of the slack left when Holohan departed for Kansas City.

Gary was mainly a pass-catcher in college at the University of Miami, and looked comfortable floating out of the backfield to catch the ball last season, with 30 catches for 150 yards.

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In nickel passing situations during the season, Robinson says he wants to try using Gary as a fullback or lined up as an H-back to get him into more pass routes and keep him away from total pass protection duties. In the Rams’ offense, the tailback is used as a blocker in pass downs, and the fullback has more pass-catching responsibilities.

“We’re trying to get Cleveland catching the ball,” Robinson said. “Then in the middle of the season, you can just put him in as either the tight end or put him in regular formation as the fullback.

“Getting him to run the patterns with timing is the issue. And he’s really good at it. He’s really good at catching the ball and good at feeling his way down there. He likes it.

“We do want that position to have catches more than it has (in the past).”

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Asked to name some unheralded players who could move close to solidifying roster spots with successful performances Monday, Robinson listed rookie defensive tackles Robert Young and Jeff Fields, linebacker Paul Butcher, tight end Corwin Anthony and running back David Lang.


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