RAMS : Delpino Hopes His Playing Time Keeps Up With His Work Load


Robert Delpino usually has enough on his mind without having to worry about another position to play.

But in addition to his roles on offense (reserve fullback) and special teams (kickoff return and punt units), Delpino has been working out at tailback this week.

With Marcus Dupree on injured reserve because of a sore left toe and Cleveland Gary recovering from sore ribs and a hamstring injury, Delpino might see plenty of action at tailback on Sunday against the Phoenix Cardinals if Gary is not 100%.

“My head has been spinning constantly this week, thinking about all the different assignments,” said Delpino, a fourth-year pro from Missouri. “But I’ll be able to handle it.”


Delpino actually welcomes the additional work load. He’d like to develop a reputation of being the Tigers’ Tony Phillips of the NFL, a utility man who is versatile enough to play a number of positions and good enough to start at any one.

“I plan on proving each week that it’s not confusing, that I can handle a variety of assignments,” Delpino said. “I don’t mind it at all. I’d rather have a big load on my shoulders. I want to be a workhorse on offense.”

Last season, Delpino was about as active on offense as a wooden horse. After finishing second on the team in rushing (78 carries, 368 yards) and fifth in receiving (34 catches, 334 yards) in 1989, his role was severely reduced in 1990.

Delpino had only 13 carries for 52 yards and caught 15 passes for 172 yards. Delpino, who missed one game because of a concussion, said he figured he played only 15% of the time in 1990 after getting considerable action his first two seasons.


“I wasn’t happy with that at all,” Delpino said. “It was frustrating knowing I could contribute in some way. I never would have guessed that that would happen after playing so much my first two years.”

Delpino has been active during the 1991 preseason, rushing 13 times for 50 yards and catching a team-high nine passes for 99 yards, and it appears he’ll see more action in the regular season.

“There’s no question he’ll be playing more--he has earned the right to play,” said Ernie Zampese, Ram offensive coordinator. “He has had a great camp and has improved in all phases of the game. He’s always been able to catch the ball, but he’s a better runner and blocker, and he knows the offense better.”

That’s great news for Delpino, but he’s still taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the season.


“I can’t predict what’s going to happen this year,” Delpino said. “I’ll just play it by ear.”

On the Fritz: Phoenix defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, fired by the Rams after last season, declined a request to be interviewed Wednesday by Los Angeles-area media on a conference call.

According to a Ram spokesman, Shurmur, who makes his Cardinal debut against the Rams on Sunday in Anaheim Stadium, did not want to bring attention to himself.

But Cardinal Coach Joe Bugel was happy to bring some attention to Shurmur, who came to the NFL with Bugel in 1975 when both joined the Detroit Lions’ staff.


“He’s magnificent--the players have a great respect for him,” Bugel said. “We have a lot of no-names on defense, and we have our share of good football players, but Fritz has a track record of making an average player who hustles into a great player within a system. That’s what he’s doing now.”

The Cardinals, who had their first undefeated exhibition season since 1948, allowed only three touchdowns against the Seahawks, Bears, Patriots and Broncos.

“I think it was a blessing that we were able to bring (Fritz) aboard,” Bugel said. “I don’t think anybody becomes a bad coach after one year.”

Pulling a plug: Sunday, the Rams should finally discover how their new defense will stack up against a good running team.


The Cardinal backfield features second-year players Johnny Johnson, a Pro Bowl selection who rushed for 926 yards and five touchdowns last season, and highly regarded Anthony Thompson, the former Indiana standout who finished second in the 1989 Heisman Trophy balloting.

Johnson is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game because of a foot injury, but Bugel said he’s “fine.”

“Our defense hasn’t been tested against the run, but we’ll find out if we can stop it,” Ram Coach John Robinson said. “I thought San Diego and Seattle would run against us (in exhibition games) but they didn’t. I don’t know how we’ll do. That’s one reason people should buy tickets.”

A soft sell? Hardly. As of Wednesday, 21,600 tickets were still available for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.


They try harder: For the second consecutive year, the Rams will face a No. 2 quarterback in the season opener. Tom Tupa will start for Phoenix on Sunday in place of injured Timm Rosenbach, who ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during practice Aug. 21 and is out for the season.

Last year, Anthony Dilweg completed 20 of 32 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 36-24 victory over the Rams in the opener. Dilweg, who was cut by the Packers this week, replaced starter Don Majkowski, who had ended a long holdout the week before the opener.