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Wilcher, Seven Others Waived : NFL: Rams' new defensive scheme, which features speed and youth, was not designed with the eight-year veteran in mind.

August 20, 1991|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — A defense desperate to get younger and faster on Monday waived linebacker Mike Wilcher, a little too old and a little too slow to keep pace in the face of massive change.

Wilcher, who Monday morning was listed as the team's first-string left outside linebacker, was a steady fixture for eight seasons in the Rams' old four-linebacker, zone defense.

In coordinator Jeff Fisher's new, speed-conscious three-linebacker scheme, Wilcher, 31, was an outsider looking in at a system not designed with him in mind.

"It was time for us to move on at that position," Coach John Robinson said Monday.

Fred Strickland is the odds-on favorite to start at left side linebacker, with Brett Faryniarz and rookie Terry Crews as back-up candidates. With those three getting more playing time, Wilcher said it was obvious he was the odd man out.

"I hadn't been playing much, and with the new system, I don't know how well I was adjusting to it," Wilcher said Monday afternoon. "I was waiting for it. I actually thought I was going to be gone last week. I was anticipating it, so it wasn't like blind, getting hit by a punch."

In the new scheme, the outside linebackers will cover running backs and tight ends man-to-man, not one of Wilcher's strong points.

"We just felt, with a new system and change being inevitable, that we would go with the younger guys," Fisher said. "Younger guys who have a future, as opposed to Mike, who would be hanging on for a year or two."

"I would have liked to have Mike Wilcher playing in this scheme when he was a young Mike Wilcher. He could've been an impact player for us."

Wilcher, a 1983 second-round choice from North Carolina, had his best season in 1985 when he led the Rams with 12.5 sacks and played in 122 games. Last year, Wilcher had one sack and was involved in 52 tackles, including a career-high 11 in the Rams' victory at San Francisco.

"Mike has had a great career, and age has taken its toll a little bit on him," Ram linebacker coach Ronnie Jones said. "I still think Mike can play football, and I hope he gets the opportunity to play someplace, maybe in a different type of system.

"It was one of those situations where we're continually looking for more speed, basically rebuilding a defense with younger players. Mike just wasn't able to fit in."

Wilcher said he would see whether there is any interest in him around the league, possibly rejoining former Ram defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, who is installing the 3-4 defense with the Phoenix Cardinals.

"Being somewhere else will be difficult," Wilcher said. "I was glad that if they knew they were going to release me, that they did it as soon as they knew it, not hold on and continue to practice until the last second."

Among the other seven players released Monday was defensive end George Bethune. Teams must be down to a 60-man roster by today, and the Rams are currently at 70.

Robinson would not comment when asked if disgruntled defensive tackle Doug Reed would be one of the 10 players released today.

Also released were tackle Theo Adams, safety Mike Babb, receiver Bernard Blackmon, running back Brian Brown, defensive tackle Bill Goldberg and kicker John Hopkins.

While the Rams were busy trimming eight players from the roster Monday, they added one--long snapper Mike McDonald, who wasn't offered a contract by the team at the end of last season. This is McDonald's third stint with the Rams since 1983.

Robinson is worried about the kick snaps of Doug Smith, whose low one last Saturday night caused a muffed kick. And if there continue to be problems, the Rams wanted to make sure they had McDonald ready.

"I've been trying to get rid of him for 12 years," Robinson cracked, "can't do it.

"Doug seems to throw a Charlie Hough-type ball back there. He throws it hard, and they're legitimately having trouble catching the ball."

Robinson said the team hasn't decided who the kick-holder will be, but Monday afternoon, backup quarterback Mike Pagel handled all the placement duties.

Recently signed No. 1 pick Todd Lyght went through his first practice with the team since signing his $5.5 million deal and struggled only with the appropriate footwear.

"My shoes were too tight at the beginning of practice," Lyght said afterward. "I had to go change my shoes, but other than that . . . "

Lyght, who was so excited to finally be a member of the team that he ran his windsprints in full gear, is scheduled to start off the Rams' exhibition-season finale playing all passing downs against the Houston Oilers' four-wide receiver offensive set.

Lyght said he didn't think he would be fully ready to break into the starting lineup at right cornerback until a month or so into the regular season.

"I'm shooting for about the fourth or fifth game of the regular season," Lyght said. "But I've got to beat out Darryl Henley, he's the No. 1 corner and he's playing really well.

"I'm kind of slow because I'm reading, thinking and reacting instead of reading and reacting like I should be. But that's good because I know I have a lot of room to improve. I know every day I play I'm going to get better."

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