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Tailback Shuffle Goes On : Rams: As Robinson rotates Warner, Green and Gary, he seems to lean toward Gary.

September 18, 1990|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Until further notice, or at least until Coach John Robinson decides three no longer is a magic number, the Ram tailback position is going to remain a rather schizophrenic endeavor.

Curt Warner skitters across the field for a couple plays, Gaston Green bolts upfield and into tacklers for a few more, and Cleveland Gary, with his ailing back almost healed, pounds inside the hash marks a few minutes later.

Then the whole process is repeated. If you blink, you may miss a whole rotation. Or two.

Say, whoever heard of a three-man tailback rotation, anyway?

Robinson has. And this is just the way it's going to be for now, Robinson says.

In Sunday's 35-14 victory over Tampa Bay, Warner gained 49 yards in 16 carries, Green 44 in nine, and Gary, in his first action of the season, 41 in eight. Those are not spectacular numbers, especially in comparison to the four-touchdown, 269-yard statistics tacked up by quarterback Jim Everett and his passel of receivers.

"Our running game is average, no better than that," Robinson said Monday.

"I think our backs are doing OK. There's no one that is establishing himself yet as a dominant force. All are efficient. All seem to be handling the responsibility OK."

And Warner, Green and Gary--those three very different sides of this tailback troika--are going to have to live with this situation for now.

Clearly, though, Robinson was suggesting that OK is not good enough for a running game under his domain. Until now, Robinson and 1,000-yard backs have been synonymous. Where one was, the other was sure to follow.

And Robinson does not deny that come December and playoff-time, he would like to have a 30-carries-a-game back ready to stamp on folks, down after down after down, without fear of injury or flagging stamina.

The Rams have a passing attack that is the envy of most offenses not named BYU. But not a big-time running game. You can beat the Buccaneers without one. Can you do the same to San Francisco at playoff time?

So Robinson waits for one of the three to break out, to make his running game go.

"I'd either like to see somebody emerge or all three emerge," Robinson said. "I'd like to be looking at collectively the best group of runners in the league. And I'm not right now. We're OK. Everything's OK."

OK. Not dominating. Just OK.

Warner, the canny 29-year-old veteran, has had the most work this year, 29 carries for 96 yards.

The speedy Green, after some spectacular exhibition efforts, has run 14 times for 56 yards.

Second-year man Gary probably would be Robinson's choice if he could prove that he can stay uninjured, especially after Sunday's 5.1-yard average without benefit of a real exhibition season.

Said Warner: "You just have to take your carries as you get them. We're all playing a part, and that's not going to be a problem as far as I'm concerned. We've known that from the beginning. We'll take it one game at a time, and whoever is hot that day is probably going to get (the main workload)."

Said Robinson: "We're at a point where, in the next month, we have to develop into a running team. A team that \o7 can run\f7 .

"I don't mean stats. That's not an accurate way. I mean, as you watch us play, you say, 'Hey, that team runs the football!' You can't say that about us right now. We're running all right.

"What I don't want to have happen is one guy to come on and be the guy for five weeks, and then go down and then the others have slipped backwards."

But as Gary, last year's No. 1 pick, gets into shape, it seems clearer that he is the best fit for the Rams' scheme. He is the kind of pounding, slamming, hit-the-hole and power-through back who can take advantage of a defense primed for the pass.

Listen to Robinson carefully, and you hear him talk about what Warner and Green are not--and, between the lines, about what Gary can be.

"I think at times (Green)'s always needed to work on breaking through tackles," Robinson said of the 1988 first-round pick. "I think he just goes down when he gets hit. That's the area of his game that I would improve on.

"I would think Curt just needs to see what we do. Curt (was) a runner in Seattle where he (was) cutting back on (wide runs), where for us cutting back is more attacking, more at-you, more in-your-face as opposed to escaping from you, which is more my, well, not my style, I don't have a style, but how I try to teach the backs."

Gary has that style. As Everett seems to have noticed.

"I think Cleveland's doing just fine," Everett said. "I'd like to see him in there a little bit more. I think he has some great tools that are going to help this team.

"He's more of a power runner, a slasher, than any finesse and quickness."

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