Advertisement

3 Rookies Have Made No Impact : Rams: After promising exhibition season, Drayton, White and LaChapelle haven’t contributed as expected.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

In April, their addition to the Ram roster provided promise.

In August, their exhibition play sparked anticipation.

In October, tight end Troy Drayton, running back Russell White and wide receiver Sean LaChapelle have all but disappeared.

“We think other guys are better,” said Ernie Zampese, Ram offensive coordinator. “If we thought these guys were better, we’d play them.”

When the Rams concluded the exhibition season, White, the team’s third-round pick, led the team in rushing and had 28 more carries than anyone else on the roster. LaChapelle, a fifth-round selection, was the team’s No. 2 receiver; Drayton was No. 3.

Advertisement

In six regular-season games, Drayton, the team’s second-round pick, has caught six passes for 101 yards and scored a touchdown. Surprisingly, however, only one of those receptions has come in the last four games, when the Rams had to play without starter Pat Carter. Carter returned to practice this week after being injured.

“I have no clue what’s going on,” Drayton said. “It seemed like the first two games, I was pretty involved in the offense, and in the last four, it seems like my involvement in the game plan has decreased.”

White has rushed twice and did so when all was lost against New Orleans. Although he received rave reviews from the coaching staff in training camp for his ability to catch the ball, he has no receptions.

“I still can catch,” he said. “I just have to take on that role of always being ready if they need me.”

LaChapelle is still looking for his first NFL catch. He did not play against the Giants, and has been inactive and out of uniform for the team’s last two games, against the Saints and Falcons.

“We had him playing in some of the nickel stuff in the (opening) game with Green Bay, and he didn’t do as well as we anticipated he would do, so we took him out of that,” Zampese said. “Then we got Ernie Jones and he had experience. James Lofton was in there, too, and then Todd Kinchen came back, and we thought the other guys were more ready to play than he was.”

Advertisement

But the Ram offense has been sorely in need of a boost. These were the kinds of players who were going to spruce up the attack.

Running back Jerome Bettis, the team’s No. 1 draft choice, has emerged as a starter and played effectively, but the passing game continues to disappoint.

Quarterback Jim Everett has been inconsistent, and yet long-time observers recall how well Everett played when tight end Pete Holohan figured prominently in the game plan. Holohan left the Rams after the 1990 season and signed with Kansas City.

Why haven’t the Rams put Drayton to work much as they used Holohan?

“You got a legitimate question there,” Zampese said. “He’s still extremely inexperienced as a football player and he’s playing in the best football league in the world.

“There is no question he has talent, and I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind that he’s going to be a fine, fine football player in this league. It’s just going to take time.”

Drayton caught five passes in the first two games, including a 22-yard touchdown reception against Pittsburgh. But last week against Atlanta, Drayton said he made it onto the field for 11 plays, and did not catch a pass.

Advertisement

“I thought I was very productive (in the first two games), scored my first touchdown and had like five to six catches under my belt,” Drayton said. “I thought that was pretty productive for a guy just coming out of college. But then when you go from playing to just not playing, it’s frustrating.

“There are still some things I don’t know. But my game elevates to another level when I play against the best, and that’s the only way I feel I can get better. The only way I’m going to get experience is by playing against those guys.”

Drayton gained recognition at Penn State after making the team as a walk-on and then switching from wide receiver to tight end. The Rams considered themselves fortunate to grab him in the second round of the draft, and after a few weeks in training camp, he drew comparisons to former Charger tight end Kellen Winslow.

“I know there were great expectations when I came in, and I feel I can live up to those expectations,” Drayton said. “I think I can give the team a boost and another offensive weapon, but I can’t do that sitting on the sidelines.”

White was productive in high school, in college and in the NFL during the exhibition season. But now he waits in line behind Bettis and Cleveland Gary. In a week, when David Lang is expected back from a knee injury, he will sink further on the depth chart.

“I think he can play in this league,” Zampese said. “He’s like a third back on anybody’s team, and that’s where he is at. He’s clearly the third back on this team at tailback until David Lang comes back.”

Advertisement

The Rams had White returning kickoffs to open the season, but after averaging only 15.3 yards on eight attempts, he was replaced.

“I don’t ask a lot of questions,” White said. “That was it.”

LaChapelle also has remained quiet, despite being relegated to dummy work on the Rams’ service teams.

“I haven’t gone and talked to the coaches about it and asked why aren’t I participating more,” LaChapelle said. “I’m not doing everything perfect now, so I don’t feel like I can go in there and look Coach (Chuck) Knox in the eye or Ernie and ask to play more.

“It’s tough, all right. It’s tough to go out there and practice and know you’re not going to have an influence on the game come Sunday. But I’m looking at it like my freshman year at UCLA. I’m just a no-name, and although I’m from UCLA and people around here know of me, I’m still a nobody to these people.”

Advertisement