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Are the Rams a Team or a Roller Coaster? : Pro football: From Week 1 to Week 2, only thing unchanged is the coach who is trying to explain it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ram Coach John Robinson has juggled emotions, players and styles of play so fast and so often this season that even he is at loss to explain it all.

Talk about your quick changes:

First, Cleveland Gary is the tailback, then he’s not, then maybe he is again. Robert Delpino is a backup fullback, then he’s the tailback leading them to Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants. Then Monday, Robinson declares that Delpino will share the job with Gary.

The offensive line appears fairly set, then its only repeat starter from last year, right tackle Jackie Slater, is injured Sunday afternoon and suddenly the line is as blurry as it has ever been.

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The new defense begins to settle in as a man-to-man, blitzing team, then goes out and throws a thick zone against the Giants. And then it loses veterans Alvin Wright and Fred Strickland in the middle of the game and goes with rookies in their place. And still wins.

The Rams turn the ball over seven times and lose their opener against the Phoenix Cardinals at home and enrage their coach. Then Robinson’s team snaps back and out-bullies the Super Bowl champion Giants on their home field in New Jersey Sunday, 19-13, and their coach cannot stop beaming.

Yes, it has been a frantic two weeks for the Rams, with no sign that it is nearing an end.

“I think this whole team is going to be doing that this whole year,” Robinson said Monday. “I think we’re a club that’s going to change before your eyes a lot this year.

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“I mean, already, in two weeks, we’ve had huge changes in terms of what’s going on with this team in terms of people and names.”

Robinson got the word Monday afternoon that Wright, Strickland and Slater all averted serious injury and would miss no more than three weeks each. But until they come back, the Rams will be mixing and matching and playing inexperienced players at all three spots.

For the short term, rookie Robert Young, who forced a fumble Sunday and received lavish praise from Robinson, steps in for Wright; rookie Roman Phifer goes in for Brett Faryniarz, who has to switch from the right side to replace Strickland as the left outside linebacker; longtime backup Robert Jenkins moves in for Slater and recently acquired Gerald Perry steps in for Jenkins at left tackle.

That’s not even considering the preseason changes that were instituted in the defense and the offensive line, coupled with the in-again, out-again situation at tailback.

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Delpino, who earned a shot at the starting job with 242 total yards after Gary lost a fumble in the opener, seemed to cement it with 116 rushing yards against the Giants Sunday.

But Monday, Robinson coyly refused to say who his starting tailback was, and emphasized that Gary, despite 13 fumbles in his last 17 games, had earned the right to share the job with Delpino.

“They’re both going to play,” Robinson said. “Definitely, Cleveland will play and play early in the game next week.”

Robinson praised Delpino’s play in the past two weeks and compared Delpino’s diving one-yard score Sunday to the play of Walter Payton or Marcus Allen at their best, but the coach suggested that he didn’t want the 215-pound Delpino burdened with such a huge load week after week.

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“Why not have two good players?” Robinson said. “Why have one guy fade? Why not bring them both on? Bobby isn’t 230 pounds and one of those guys that’s indestructible.”

On the offensive line, at least for the next few weeks, there isn’t one starter who was at his current position before 1991, and there have been problems on snaps between center Tom Newberry and quarterback Jim Everett that have led to turnovers.

The new kick-returner, Vernon Turner, is still trying to make people forget his two-fumble performance in the opener and remember his 36-yard kickoff return against the Giants.

The defense is still trying to adapt to coordinator Jeff Fisher’s brand of defense, which got a subtle and successful alteration Sunday when he threw lots of zone coverages at the Giants.

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For the Rams, the big search is for consistency.

“You know, it’s a funny thing, I believe this team has been pretty consistent in my view in terms of how hard it has worked in what we are after and what we are looking for,” Robinson said.

“Their efficiency has been all over the place, from very good to awful. But their aggressiveness and the way they’re playing the game is pretty good.”


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