Carl Ekern, the Ram player representative, suited up Wednesday and went to practice clinging to a thread of optimism.
"The proposal we (the NFL Players Assn.) issued Tuesday moves us off our postion somewhat," he said. "What we're saying is we're willing to negotiate on some items. They weren't big shifts, but we opened a crack in the door.
"The countdown is on, and it has dwindled down to less than a week (the strike deadline is Tuesday), but there's still ample time to settle on the groundwork for an agreement."
By the time practice had ended, however, Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, had rejected the union's latest offer and the thread snapped.
"To be honest, I'm not surprised about management's posture," Ekern said. "I still think some little steps have been made. But I guess you'd have to say my optimism has changed to hope. I'll remain hopeful until the strike deadline.
"I have some unused picket signs that I saved from '82," Ekern said, glumly. "It looks like they may get some use yet."
The owners say they will continue the season with "alternates" (non-union players) in the event of a strike, but Ekern said he wasn't sure if the Rams would picket practices. He did admit, though, that there has been talk in the locker room about physically preventing the non-union players from getting into Rams Park.
"It's been discussed, to date, mostly jokingly," Ekern said, smiling. "We're dealing with a very mature group here, you know.
"But picketing camp is definitely an option. Whether it would happen here or not remains to be seen."
Ekern also had something to say--well, at least imply--about those who might play during the strike.
"The people who come in here and play have a heavy decision to make," he said. "I assume they all want to be in the NFL someday and being in the NFL means being in the players association."
Is there an implied threat there?
"I don't want to be any more clear than that," he said.
Some NFL players have said they might defy the union and play. But Ekern said no Ram player had said he would ignore a strike order.
A number of Rams indicated that they don't feel threatened by the prospect of non-union players playing in their place.
Linebacker Kevin Greene said he wouldn't consider it "anything personal."
"These guys just want a chance to play football," he said. "I can understand that."
Cornerback LeRoy Irvin said he wasn't necessarily opposed to someone getting a portion of the $15,625 a game he'll be losing in event of a strike.
"But that doesn't mean I'd go out and have a (beer) with the guy," he said.
Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns doesn't seem overly concerned about the Rams' new emphasis on the passing game. Or maybe he figures that this Sunday, the Rams will return to their old form after last Sunday's loss in Houston.
Asked his impressions of Ram quarterback Jim Everett, Burns said, "He throws the ball well. He looks good, but any team that has Eric Dickerson is a team to be reckoned with."
Does he plan to blitz a lot, as the Oilers did?
"The Rams have a big offensive line with two or three Pro Bowlers in there and a great running game," he said. "They're a hard team to defense."
Cornerback LeRoy Irvin, who is scheduled to make his first 1987 start Sunday after a series of ailments sidelined him during much of training camp, says he is physically ready. He also says he will give 100%, but hasn't changed his feelings about the contract extension he signed last spring. Does he still want to be traded? "I still want to get a better deal for myself," he said. "I turned 30 yesterday, so time is winding down." . . . Irvin will split time with Mickey Sutton, who started in his place last week. "Mickey's been playing good," Irvin said. "I'm a team man and Mickey deserves to be in there. I think we'll probably rotate like we did last week." Coach John Robinson confirmed that would be the case. . . . Running back Eric Dickerson visited Dr. Robert Kerlan, the team physician, Wednesday to have his bruised knee examined. Robinson said Dickerson would play Sunday. . . . Wide receiver Ron Brown (hip contusion) and cornerback Clifford Hicks (shoulder) are listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Minnesota. Linebackers Carl Ekern (knee) and Kevin Greene (virus) are probable. . . . Minnesota quarterback Tommy Kramer (shoulder) is listed as questionable, but won't play unless both Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon are unable to continue. Viking cornerback Ike Holt (knee) is doubtful and running back Darrin Nelson (knee) is probable. "Darrin is looking better," Viking Coach Jerry Burns said. "He's running pretty well, and I think he'll probably play, but we won't play him unless he's 100%." . . . Nelson's replacement, rookie D.J. Dozier, scored two touchdowns in his NFL debut last week, gaining 57 yards on 12 carries. . . . The Rams cut running back Joe Armentrout, who had been on the injured reserve list.