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RAMS : McGee Ends Holdout but Doesn’t Have Firm Hold on Job

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A healthy and eager Buford McGee walked into the Ram training camp--just in time to see it end.

McGee, the team’s most valuable player last season, signed a two-year deal that will pay him about $525,000 per season. The fullback reported to the team Thursday, the Rams’ final day of camp at UC Irvine.

“I’m glad (the negotiations) are over,” McGee said. “I guess I’ll get to miss the bruises this year.”

However, he already has had his share of pain.

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McGee’s 1990 season came to an end during the final game in New Orleans, when he came off the field and announced to coaches, “I think I’ve broken my arm.”

He was right.

The injury required surgery, and McGee had a metal plate placed in his left arm. His rehabilitation was slow.

“It didn’t show much progress at first and they didn’t know why,” said McGee, 31. “I guess that was because of old age.”

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By the end of March, doctors were debating whether another operation was necessary.

“It went right down to the day when they had to decide whether to do it or not,” McGee said. “Fortunately, I began to show some progress. I was glad about that.”

The injury and the amount of time it took to recover might have played a part in negotiations. Signing McGee didn’t appear to be the Rams’ top priority, as doctors felt it would be late August before he could play.

However, McGee showed rapid improvement last spring and on July 21 was given clearance to practice. He will wear a brace on his arm during games.

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“My agent didn’t want me in camp,” McGee said. “There was nothing for me to do but sit around. It took only two days to work out the contract once we got started.”

McGee walks into a crowded situation at fullback. He will compete with versatile Robert Delpino and veteran Mosi Tatupu, among others, for playing time.

McGee has started almost every game since being acquired in a trade with San Diego in 1987. He had the best season of his seven-year career in 1990.

He had career highs in rushing (234 yards) and pass receptions (45). McGee also scored five touchdowns--four receiving--and remained a solid blocker.

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But Ram coaches have said they plan to have two or three players share time at fullback.

McGee said he was not concerned about having a reduced role.

“We have guys who do certain things well,” McGee said. “I think it will be spread out evenly. I’m going to do whatever they tell me. I’m up to the challenge.”

McGee also said he might be needed even more with the departure of tight end Pete Holohan, who signed with Kansas City as a Plan B free agent during the off-season.

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“That was 50 pass receptions, so someone will have to pick those up,” McGee said. “There should be plenty to go around.”

Attack dog: Since the day he was hired, defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher has said the Rams will attack this season. But he still had to find some new attackers.

After two exhibition games, Fisher thinks he has a good one in defensive end Karl Wilson, a Plan B free agent from the Miami Dolphins.

“Karl has been a big surprise,” Fisher said. “We knew he had ability from our Plan B evaluations. But he has been even better than we expected.”

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Wilson, a third-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 1987, was a Plan B free agent last season as well. He played in 16 games for the Dolphins, two as a starter, and finished with four sacks.

After two exhibition games, he has won a starting spot in the Rams’ new-look, 4-3 defense. At 6 feet 4, 275 pounds, he has the size Fisher was looking for up front.

“He attacks and penetrates,” Fisher said. “He will be able to anchor the left side for us and he can move inside to play defensive tackle.”

Wilson has made a strong impression despite a hamstring injury suffered early in camp.

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“If he’s playing at 80%, I can’t wait to see him at 100%,” Fisher said.

Blitz fitz: Overall, Fisher has been pleased with the defense and the players’ ability to grasp the scheme. However, he said it’s time to put theory into action.

“We still don’t have that blitz mentality,” he said. “We execute it well, but we haven’t gone after people. When we call for a blitz, I want to see eyes get real big.”


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