Turning his back on exhibition performances, popular sentiment and the power-football philosophy he used to personify, Ram Coach Chuck Knox on Monday waived Marcus Dupree, the team's most impressive running back this summer.
Dupree, who joined the Rams two years ago after an injury-caused five-year layoff from football, leaves the team as he seemed to be reaching a level close to what he enjoyed as a Mississippi high school legend.
Knox said the main factor in cutting Dupree was the Rams' "evolution" into a one-back, pass-oriented offense for 1992. Knox said he would go with a rotation of Cleveland Gary and Robert Delpino because versatile backs are more valuable than straight-ahead runners in offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese's pass-oriented offense.
"It's a decision that I don't understand, but it's something I'm going to have to live with," Dupree, 28, said of his release. "I don't have any problems with what I did."
Thirteen other players became former Rams on Monday when the team dropped to the 47-man roster limit, and several more moves are expected in the next few days involving the injured-reserve list.
Others cut were safeties Eric Buckley and Rickey Jones, kicker Steven Domingos, cornerback Charles Franks, defensive lineman Vance Hammond, tight end Frank Hartley, linebackers Tom Homco, Brian Townsend and Glenell Sanders, running backs Derek Loville and Ernie Thompson and defensive ends Jim Skow and Karl Wilson.
The Rams kept veteran punter Don Bracken over free-agent Domingos, despite Domingos' superior punting average and five-for-five field goal accuracy while filling in for Tony Zendejas.
The Rams aren't through maneuvering. Besides having to find room for safety Michael Stewart and possibly rookie cornerback Steve Israel, who have roster exemptions but probably will be activated for the opener in Buffalo on Sunday, they are expected to put rookie offensive lineman Shawn Harper on the injured-reserve list because of a knee injury and could pick up another running back from the waiver wire. Defensive end Bill Hawkins, who has a calf injury, also is a possibility for the injured-reserve list.
But the decision to cut Dupree was the controversial move of the day.
Dupree gained 148 yards in 34 carries, leading the closest Ram runner by almost 100 yards, and his 4.4-yard average was a yard and a half more than any of the four backs who made the roster.
"We have to look at a lot more things than (the rushing average)," Knox said.
Gary and Delpino led the team in rushing in 1990 and 1991, respectively, but gained a combined 63 yards during the exhibition season because of minor leg injuries.
Dupree, who signed with the Rams Oct. 3, 1990, five years after suffering what was believed to be a career-ending knee injury in the United States Football League, carried only 68 times the last two years for 179 yards and often was injured.
From the Rams' first minicamp under Knox this May, to which Dupree reported late, the Knox-Dupree relationship was tenuous, at best.
On Monday, when asked about Dupree, Knox mentioned several times how hard it was to cut another back, Plan B acquisition Derek Loville.
Knox told both Dupree and reporters that Dupree was not versatile enough to adapt to the one-back offense, and that the two backup spots--filled by rookie Tim Lester and second-year man David Lang--were reserved for prime special teams contributors.
"We've evolved pretty much to a one-back offense," Knox said. "And . . . we just felt we had backs that were a little more well-rounded, could catch the ball coming out of the backfield and could do some of the other things besides run with the football."
Knox, who has used a two-back offense for nearly his entire 19 years as an NFL head coach, said he has decided the best way for the undermanned Rams to play offense was to get into a finesse game highlighting the talents of quarterback Jim Everett, receivers Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard and the rest of the Rams' proven pass attack.
"We're going to be a multiple-formation team, playing with a lot of formations and a lot of motion," Knox said.
Dupree, who never has been known as a pass catcher or a blocker, simply did not fit into the finesse system, Knox indicated.
"He just said if he was running the same offense he ran up in Seattle, I could make the team then," Dupree said. "But they're running Ernie's offense right now."
Dupree said he was planning to fly home to New Orleans today, then perhaps go to Chicago to visit his mentor, Walter Payton, and explore the possibility of becoming a partner in Payton's attempt to get an NFL franchise for St. Louis.
When he joined the Rams, Dupree said he had made the comeback because he didn't want to be 50 someday, wondering if he ever could have played in the NFL.
"We'll just see how the next couple of days go," Dupree said when asked if he would try to catch on with another team. "If not, I'll just get on with my life, (knowing) that I did play in the NFL.
"That I could play."