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SEASON PREVIEW: RAMS ’91 : 1,000 Yards : Ram Backs in the Market for Real Estate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Robinson says he’s wearing headphones this season to “cover the hole in the back of my head.” Actually, it’s an effort to fill the vacuum in the victory column.

After suffering through last year’s 5-11 steamrollering, the Ram coach lifted himself up, surveyed the wreckage, and noticed the 1,000-yard back was missing. For the first time in eight seasons as Ram coach, not one player on his team rushed for a 1,000 or more yards.

The more he thought about it, the more determined he became to forever more heed the first commandment of Robinson’s Rock ‘n’ Run Football: Someone shall rush for 1,000 yards.

So he attempted to put together an offensive line that averages about 300 pounds. He lined up Cleveland Gary and Marcus Dupree, two strong, physical tailbacks. He acquired the quintessential short-yardage blocking fullback in Mosi Tatupu.

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And now, for the first time as a pro coach, he’s enlisted the help of a headset.

Robinson always had veto power when offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese called a play. This year, he’ll also have the power of subtle suggestion.

“I think my reasoning (for using headphones) involves the running game,” Robinson said. “Ernie is going to call the plays, that won’t change. But Ernie’s and Jimmy Raye’s prime thinking is passing. That’s what they work on all week. I work primarily on running during the week.

“With the headset, I can just tell Ernie between plays, or make suggestions, in terms of formations. You go into a game with a plan, then you look at what the other guy’s doing and adjust the plan. I’m not doing it to do anything other than expedite the communication which normally goes on. I’m trying to get it a little quicker than perhaps we did last year.”

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And he promises not to scream “Run the &!$&! ball” too often.

IT’S WHAT’S UP FRONT THAT COUNTS

“I don’t know how many guys we have on the offensive line who weigh under 300 pounds, but it’s not very many,” Jim Everett said, grinning. “That will be one of our assets. We’re gonna be leaning on some people this year. That’s what we have to do, blow some people out.”

Jackie Slater, 37, was the only Ram player voted into last season’s Pro Bowl. A few years ago, most of the offensive line could plan on their Hawaiian vacation before the season started.

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Slater will be starting at right tackle for the 13th consecutive season and is expected to be the foundation of the group that must pave the way to the 1,000-yard promised land.

Slater’s experience and leadership will certainly be a factor. And he drive blocks as well as anyone on the team.

“These guys are big, physical guys who are technically sound,” Slater said. “We’re looking to keep working on running that football and the more you do it, the better you get. We’re optimistic that we’re going to keep improving.

“I feel like we’ve got plenty of talent. We’ve got the potential to be a dominating line.”

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Unfortunately for Robinson, potential is all he’s seen in 1991.

Tom Newberry, the guard who’s moving to center, missed most of camp because of a contract dispute and missed the final preseason game to be with his expectant wife.

Tackle Gerald Perry has been hampered by a knee injury and did not play in an exhibition game. Longtime left tackle Irv Pankey missed all of camp because of a holdout, and left tackle Robert Jenkins (formerly Robert Cox) has missed time because of a holdout and a minor knee injury. Guard Duval Love also missed three weeks of camp with a knee injury.

Only Slater, guards Bern Brostek and Joe Milinichik have remained relatively healthy.

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“The potential is there, absolutely,” Everett said, “But I’d like the offensive line to get stable before the first game and then worry about peaking.”

LEGGING IT OUT

Dupree thinks he’s the right guy in the right place at the right time. And Robinson hopes he’s right.

“Coach Robinson is the perfect coach to me,” Dupree said. “He wants to establish the power running game again. And to me, if you want to win a football game, you have to be able to run the ball and control the ball.”

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A toe injury has slowed Dupree’s progress recently, but Robinson very much likes what he’s seen.

But Robinson is equally enamored with the power running of Gary, whose only problem last season was bringing the football with him as he slammed his way upfield. Despite his fumbling problems, Gary had 808 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.

Neither has been spectacular in the preseason and both watched the final exhibition game from the sidelines. It’s likely the Rams will open the season with either Dupree or Gary (sore hamstring) or both playing at less than 100%.

“I have no doubt that we have the right runners with Marcus and Cleveland,” Everett said. “It’s all there, it’s just a matter of making it click.”

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Everett is looking forward to the day when the Rams force opponents to think about stopping the run first and worry about the quarterback and receivers second.

“We’re going to mix it up as much as we can,” he said. “We’ll still have the finesse, if that’s what you want to call (the passing game). But it’s great to have the confidence and the ability in the running game when you need it on third and two.

“The key is for the offense to run as efficiently as possible. And when our running game reaches the level that Coach Robinson wants to implement, it will make our passing game that much more efficient, too.”

So when will the punch return to the Ram running game?

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“November,” Robinson says. “I’m serious. It’s not easy. It’s not like the passing game, where you complete a couple and say, “Ooooh, we’re passing.’ This comes over a period of time. But we will have that punch.”

1990 Was an Offensive Year Best Left Forgotten Recording a 5-11 record--the fewest number of victories since 1982--the 1990 Rams missed the playoffs thanks to an inconsistent, mistake-prone offense and porous defense. TOTAL OFFENSE: The ’90 Season POINTS SCORED: Rams: 345 points NFL: 293 (season total) RUSHING: Rams: 101 NFL: 114 (Per Game Avg.) PASSING: Rams: 239 NFL: 195 (Per Game Avg.) GIVEAWAYS: Rams: 31 NFL: 33 (season total) DID YOU KNOW?

For the first time in his tenure as Rams’ Coach (1983 to date), John Robinson failed to produce a 1,00-yards-plus rusher with Cleveland Gary finishing with but 808 yards. GARY’S ’90 SEASON IN REVIEW 808 Yards Gary gained over 100 yards in a game only twice--102 against Atlanta (Oct. 21) and 103 against Dallas (Nov. 18). 204 Carries Gary carried the ball more than 20 times in only four games, tops being 24-attempt back-to- back games against Dallas and San Francisco (Nov. 18, 25). 14 TDS Gary’s 3-TD effort against Dallas helped him finish with the fifth highest single-season total in Ram history. 7 Fumbles Lost To everyone’s surprise and consternation, Gary let the ball get away from him 12 times in 15 games. With two-time rushing leader Greg Bell gone, Ram Coach John Robinson looked at the start of last season to Cleveland Gary to step right in and follow in the heralded line of Bell, Charles White and Eric Dickerson as 1,000-yard plus rushers. The 6-foot, 226-pound Gary had come out of the University of Miami with a reputation for speed, a slashing style of running and as a back tough to bring down. When the disappointing 1990 season had ended, Gary had fallen well short of the goals set for him. An aging offensive line and the team’s penchant for falling behind quickly taking the Rams out of their balanced-attack game plan, didn’t help. Neither, however, did Gary’s unexplained attack of fumblitis--letting it get away 12 times--the Rams losing seven of them. In one stretch of four games (Nov. 18 to Dec. 9), he fumbled six times. His two most-noteworthy fumbles came Nov. 18 against Dallas, when with the score tied at 21 in the fourth period, he coughed up the ball at the Cowboys 21. Dallas took over, drove into Ram territory and had Ken Willis kick a 23-yard, game-winning field goal. Three weeks later, on Dec. 9 against New Orleans, he fumbled at the Saint one yard line. As a result, Robinson lost confidence in him. In the last five games of the season--in which the Rams lost four--Gary carried the ball only 44 times, including but three times in the 26-10 loss to the 49ers Dec. 17.


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