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Ol' What's-His-Name Slowly Catching On Again With Rams : Henry Ellard's Fighting Back

November 12, 1986|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

Ol' what's-his-name caught two passes, his first of the season, for the Rams Sunday. You know the guy: Smiles a lot . . . Hank Stram's best pal . . . spent his summer vacation in Fresno waiting for the phone to ring.

Two weeks ago, when the Rams played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, ol' what's-his-name dropped an easy pass. The press box announcer clicked on his microphone.

"Pass intended for (slight pause) A-lard ," the announcer said, as if mentioning a French pastry.

A-lard? You half expected him to complete the mistake with a first name, as in, On-ray A-lard .

Earlier in the year, before he ended his celebrated contract holdout, 'ol what's-his-name was watching a Ram game on television. CBS analyst Stram, management's friend, casually mentioned that what's-his-name wasn't signed because he disliked returning punts.

What's-his-name casually wanted to scream.

Turns out Stram's information was bad, like his hair weave. Stram even said so on the air Sunday--about the bad information, that is.

And so it goes for one Henry Ellard, ol' what's-his-name and Ram wide receiver.

A season ago, Ellard finished his first three games with 9 receptions for 149 yards, an average of about 17 yards a catch. And after three punt returns, Ellard had 97 yards and 1 touchdown. "He may be as quick (a receiver) as I've been around," Ram assistant coach Lew Erber said.

But since his return, Ellard has caught a grand total of two passes in three games. That's 35 yards and no touchdowns. He has returned four punts for an average of 5.3 yards.

"When a person holds out and gets back, you're learning game-by-game," Ellard said. "You don't have the time to go through preseason and learn through four preseason games. You're there, you're on the job and you respond the best way you can.

"I wasn't expecting anything to happen real soon," he said. "It would have been nice, but it's a situation you can't rush. You know, it's nice to catch the ball early, but I was more or less learning. I was just happy to be out there . . . doing whatever I could, even if it was as a decoy. I felt that in due time, once I started to get my rhythm and hand-eye coordination back, the ball would start to come to me."

Ellard said he ran about 30 or 40 patterns before he caught that first pass Sunday against the Saints. Out patterns. Fly patterns. Curl patterns. Drag patterns. Flag patterns. Post patterns. You name it, Ellard ran it. Sometimes it seemed as if there was a message, not a number, on the back of his jersey: "I'm busy. Throw to Ron Brown."

"The big step was the N.O. (New Orleans) game and catching and getting the first ball," he said. "That was a big part of it. Before, I was running routes and never getting the ball in the end. It's a little different."

It was different against the Bears, when Ellard became a target instead of an accessory. He rewarded the Rams by watching two balls slip through his hands. So noted on the Ram grading sheets.

"I told him after that game, 'Hey, we can't have this,' " Erber said. " 'You have to start from scratch.' "

Erber knows. When he was with the Raiders, he coached such notables as Dave Casper, Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff. One year, Casper missed part of training camp because of a contract dispute. When he returned, Erber said: "It was absolutely embarrassing."

This is worse, though. Ellard missed the entire training camp and the first seven games of the season. "I don't know anybody alive who could come in two months late and pick up where he left off," Erber said.

Ellard hasn't. The plays are familiar, and the terminology used is easy enough, but something is missing. Little things, really--like what foot to make a cut on, gauging how far downfield you are without glancing at the markers, looking a pass into your hands. Suddenly, Ellard found himself thinking rather than reacting.

During his holdout, Ellard ran routes for Fresno State quarterback Kevin Sweeney. Hundreds of them. But it wasn't enough, he said.

"I was rusty, even though I was catching the ball during the time I was holding out," Ellard said. "You don't really want to go through training camp, two-a-days, but I think it actually helps a player, no doubt about that. Especially as a receiver. You've got your equipment on, you're going through contact, you're getting tackled, things like that."

Erber put it in simpler terms. "He just needed the opportunity to get knocked around while catching the ball," he said.

The Rams are paying Ellard about $9,000 a game to get knocked around. It's not exactly what Ellard had in mind when he chose to skip camp, but then again, it's not twiddling your thumbs at home and listening to Stram talk about his days with the Kansas City Chiefs, either.

"Just the fact that I'm playing is important," Ellard said. "You hate to hold out like I did, even though things haven't worked themselves out yet. But I think the big part to me right now is playing and trying to do whatever I can to help the team.

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