It's very commendable, this wish of Mark Jerue's to become himself. But fat chance that it will come true any time soon.
Jerue is a starting inside linebacker for the Rams. That's Mark Jerue. Make note of that. Not Mike Jerue and certainly not, "The guy who's filling in for Jim Collins."
Unfortunately, it's the latter description that has stuck. Seems no matter how well he performs--and he has performed well--Jerue's name is chain-linked to the player he's replacing. A lot of talk about big shoes.
"It's only natural," Jerue said. "Jim's a great player. Right now, I'm a nobody, an unknown. But this is my big chance. I just want to prove myself, make a name for myself."
He wouldn't be the first. Last season, Mike Wilcher stepped in for George Andrews at outside linebacker. After leading the team in sacks, Wilcher is firmly entrenched at that position and Andrews is no longer with the Rams.
"There's so little difference between our first and second teams," Jerue said. "Look at Vince Newsome. He fills in for Johnnie Johnson, and now he's the man out there."
Jerue, 6-feet 3-inches and 232 pounds, led the Rams with 15 tackles in an exhibition game against San Diego. In the season opener at St. Louis, he had six tackles. Not a bad start, but nothing to make people forget Collins.
"I think Mark is making great progress," said Fritz Shurmer, Ram defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach. "He's excellent against the run. He's still learning against the pass. . . . As far as Mark and Jim go, we haven't talked about it here. Jim's a great player, but it's only normal that a player like Mark would want to make an impact of his own."
In Collins, Jerue is overshadowed by a guy who was named to the 1985 NFC Pro Bowl team and led the Rams in tackles for the second straight season.
But Collins suffered nerve damage in his left shoulder during the Pro Bowl and is not expected back until mid-October. Shurmer says it isn't certain how soon after Collins' return he'll be able to play.
So, in stepped Jerue, who in three years as a Ram had made a grand total of 43 tackles, mostly on special teams. His arrival wasn't exactly heralded by a blare of trumpets, or for that matter, kazoos.
In fact, after Jerue made five tackles and had an interception in an exhibition game against San Francisco Aug. 18, Coach John Robinson paid him this, er, compliment:
"I feel good about him," Robinson said. "I think he'll be solid. Now we are down from a Pro Bowler to a solid player. That's the sad part of our defense."
Talk about your slaps on the back.
But then it's never been necessary for Mark Jerue to look outside his body for motivation. Some players are said to have big hearts; Jerue has one that shifts into turbo whenever playing time nears.
Drafted by the New York Jets in 1982, Jerue's heartbeat raced before his first exhibition game. He thought it was just normal rookie jitters, but what it turned into was dizziness and a difficulty in breathing. A few days later he was admitted to a hospital for a two-week stay.
"They never figured out what it was," Jerue said. "I know it was my heart, but I don't think anything was wrong. I felt the same way before the St. Louis game. Real dizzy. But I just don't panic, I know that's the way I am.
"I've always relied a lot on enthusiasm and, and . . ." Jerue pumps his arms in the air several times, searching for the missing word. "You know what I mean. But that stuff isn't taken very kindly to in the NFL. Look at (Mark) Gastineau. Guys don't like that kind of stuff. So I've changed. But in my college days, whoa. I could tell you some stories, but I wouldn't want to read about them. Let's just say I used to fly around the field, the locker room, a whole lot. I was out of control."
Jerue played nose tackle at the University of Washington. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the Huskies' 1980 Rose Bowl victory. But playing the line didn't teach him much about pass defense.
"All those years on the line can take their toll," Shurmer said. "He's got a lot to learn about pass coverage."
Sunday, Jerue will get a crash course against the San Francisco 49ers.
"Gawd, that ought to be interesting," Jerue said, half mockingly. "But at least I'll be out there playing, not watching. You can't learn much about football from the sidelines."
And others can't learn much about a player on the sideline. So, remember. It's Mark Jerue. Number 59. You know, the guy who's filling in for Jim Collins.