Maddox Is Still Waiting for His Chance to Start : Rams: After three seasons in the NFL, former Bronco quarterback remains a frustrated understudy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1992, the Denver Broncos risked a first-round draft pick on UCLA sophomore Tommy Maddox, made him an understudy to John Elway and tagged him as their quarterback of the future.

But three seasons later, Maddox is still waiting . . .

Except now Maddox wears a Ram helmet and only plays Elway's role on the scout squad in practice as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Broncos at Anaheim Stadium.

Elway, 34, remains one of the best quarterbacks in the game while Maddox, 23, languishes on the bench behind Chris Chandler and Chris Miller. Maddox, whom the Rams acquired for a fourth-round draft pick, has played in only one game, completing seven of 15 passes for 86 yards with two interceptions in an 8-5 loss to Atlanta, a game he barely had any preparation for.

"Anybody in this locker room who is not playing is going to be frustrated," Maddox said. "At least at Denver, if something happened to John, I had a shot at playing. That's the most frustrating thing going on right now. You just have to wait it out and see what happens."

In August, the NFL's new salary cap forced Denver to trade Maddox after he refused to take a pay cut.

The Rams then restructured his contract, decreasing his salary to $550,000 but waiving the fourth and final season of his Denver deal. The new Rams' deal allows him to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, giving the team right of first refusal and draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.

"It was a tough situation for him here," Elway said Wednesday in a conference call from Denver. "Tommy has a lot of ability, and his expectations coming out of college were that he wanted to play right away.

"I don't know what it is about this town and their quarterbacks, but as a backup he took a lot of pressure because he never got the time to play. It was pretty hard on him. I think in the long run, a change of scenery is going to help him."

The pressure of playing in Denver can be rough on young quarterbacks, as Elway can attest. His battles with former Bronco Coach Dan Reeves were well-documented.

And so were his struggles, particularly early in his career, with his celebrity status in a city that's nuts about football. Every move he made, on or off the field, was tomorrow's headlines.

"There's no middle of the road here," Elway said. "When times are good, there's no better place to be, but when times are rough, I don't know if there's a worse place to be."

Maddox agreed.

"They live and breathe football there," Maddox said. "You're under the microscope when you play in the NFL, but you are really under the microscope when you're in Denver.

"They don't expect you to miss a couple passes in a row. As great as John has played there, and as many things as he has done for the city, they'll still boo him if he goes out and plays crappy. They'll boo anybody."

Maddox backed up Elway for two seasons, starting four games as a rookie when Elway was injured. But Maddox rarely played last season, attempting only one pass, which he completed for a one-yard touchdown.

"Tommy had an idea how long I was going to be here," Elway said. "I just told him to be patient and to learn as much as he can now.

"He was just 20 when he first got here, and we couldn't even go out and have a beer together because he wasn't 21 yet. He's young and he has two years of experience in the league, and I think that will help him when he does become a starter."

Denver Coach Wade Phillips thought the deal worked out well for both teams. He thinks Maddox has a chance to play eventually with the Rams, and the Broncos got a fourth-round pick for him instead of losing him to free agency after the 1995 season.

"We weren't going to have him after next year, so we wanted whatever we could get for him," Phillips said. "We traded with the Rams because we thought he would have an opportunity with them. We didn't want to send him just anywhere to get anything. We have some compassion for our players.

"We would have lost him to the Rams or somebody in a year. You can't keep backup people now that they've become free agents.

"And John is going to play a few more years, so there wasn't much we could do. We were in a corner, and that was all we could do."

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