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Rams '88 PREVIEW SECTION : Relying On the Promise of Youth : Dickerson Trade Brings a Wealth of Newcomers, This Year and Next

September 09, 1988|CHRIS DUFRENSE | Times Staff Writer

The Rams think that youth will be served this season. They hope it's not on a platter.

The danger in trading away your best player for a truckload of prized rookies is that any money saved on shaving cream and hair-loss ointment might be lost elsewhere--in playoff bonuses, for example.

It's the risk the Rams took when they dealt Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis last season for three No. 1 draft picks, three second-rounders and tailback Greg Bell.

The Rams used two first-round picks this year and took UCLA tailback Gaston Green, the fastest man on the draft board, and Arizona State wide receiver Aaron Cox, who will step right in and replace the retired Ron Brown.

With three second-round choices, they selected Oregon cornerback Anthony Newman, UCLA receiver Willie (Flipper) Anderson and Purdue linebacker Fred Strickland.

What the Rams are doing this year and next might be unprecedented in National Football League history. And remember, they've only just begun. Next year, in the second installment of life after Dickerson, the Rams have two more first-round picks and three seconds.

In a span of two years, the Rams will have been almost completely overhauled. Gone already from last year are such names as Nolan Cromwell, Hugh Millen, Steve Dils, Reggie Doss, David Hill, Kevin House and Dennis Harrah. Next year, more veterans will disappear.

It's not very often that 10 of a team's 14 draft choices make the roster in one form or another. Seven Ram draft choices made the final 47-man roster. Running back Keith Jones (sixth round, ankle), defensive end Mike Piel (third round, neck) and tackle R.C. Mullin (10th round, back) have been stashed on injured reserve for future consideration.

Someone asked Coach John Robinson this summer if having too many rookies on one team is dangerous.

"Not if they're good," Robinson said.

It was a point well taken. These are more than just your average rookies. The Rams drafted 5 of the first 47 players taken in the draft. They'll have drafted 10 of the top 112 after next season.

Quarterback Jim Everett already has seen the quality difference in his rookie wide receivers. Anderson and Cox. "These guys come from football systems, UCLA and Arizona State, that have complex pass offenses for the college level," Everett said. "They came in here as proven players and have all the ability. All they're doing is learning the system. They know what a glitz is, how to read a secondary. It's not like they came from Oklahoma and ran the wishbone, and maybe caught one ball for a touchdown every game. These guys are experienced college players who can come in and compete. Sure, it takes a while to get the timing and techniques, but other than that, these guys are players."

This, of course, comes from that grizzled veteran Everett, age 25.

Still, there is often a price to be paid for youth. What it will cost the Rams in terms of wins and losses remains to be seen. The Rams haven't played out their hand yet, but are recoiling from a disastrous 6-9 season. Patience may be a virtue elsewhere. It's not in football.

The demands placed on the Class of 1988 will be great. But will it be enough until next year's graduates arrive?

Here's a closer look at the student body:

FIRST ROUND

GASTON GREEN (running back, 5-10, 189, UCLA). It would be easy to call Green's first summer a disappointment. He sat out the first game at Canton, Ohio, with a thigh injury, raising long-held doubts about his durability. Still, after a strong finish (73 yards rushing against San Diego), Green was the team's second-leading rusher in the exhibition season with 188 yards, one behind Greg Bell. The advantage Green had was not being held personally responsible for replacing Dickerson. Green was given time to grow, making it easier to overlook his slow start. Robinson used the summer to teach Green his theories on power-running. In the meantime, Charles White and Bell raced ahead. White, the reigning NFL rushing champion, was the starter to begin with. Bell, on the other hand, was the most impressive back of the summer, dispelling rumors of his impending trade or release.

Look for Green to be slowly worked into the offense this season. The Rams want to pick their spots with him, hoping to use his great speed to catch tired and unexpecting defenses on their heels. The Rams figure there's plenty of time for Green, 22, to carve his own legacy.

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