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SEASON PREVIEW: RAMS '91 : Coaches Experiment With Finding Right Chemistry


ANAHEIM — Kevin Greene manages to incorporate the word "violent" into every other sentence. Even normally low-key Jerry Gray says he's "pumped up."

The Rams began 1991 with six new assistant coaches and one radically different defensive philosophy. The players have embraced the new coaches. Of course, some have been hugging their playbooks, too.

"One thing you have to do as a player is adjust to whomever is coaching you. You have to make the adjustment," Gray said. "But I think everyone on the defense is looking forward to the new defense and that's made the transition easier."

Four of the six new assistants work with the defense, including defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher, secondary coach Tom Bettis and linebackers coach Ronnie Jones, all of whom were with Philadelphia last season. Defensive line coach John Teerlinck, passing game/receivers coach Jimmy Raye and running back coach Clarence Shelmon are also new to the staff.

Former All-Pro Ram safety Nolan Cromwell is also helping. "I had separated myself from the game as a player long enough and wanted to return," he said. "This is basically an apprenticeship year for me. When I heard about the coaching change, I called and asked if I could come in and help. It's a chance for me to pick up some great coaching techniques and philosophies."

Whether Fisher's Ram version of Buddy Ryan's attacking 4-3 defense will be any more successful than last year's patentedly passive 3-4 remains to be seen, but clearly the players would rather go down chasing the quarterback than backpedaling. That and the motivation inherent in Fisher's do-or-die approach has made coaching easier for the new defensive staff.

"Everyone's working hard because it's something new and if you're not ready for this, you're going to make a lot of mistakes," Gray said. "And then teams will score a lot of points. But if you're ready, you're going to win a lot of ballgames with it."

Fisher says he will give every player, every chance to be ready.

"There's nothing tricky or scientific to it," he said. "You just have to have a sense of responsibility to keep yourself physically ready and mentally prepared to play."

So, have the players responded to his straight-forward approach?

"Either they respond or the alternative is obvious," Fisher said. "That's the nature of this business. So a player is foolish if he doesn't take every advantage to compete and learn and be the very best he can."

Here's a closer look at the new Ram coaches:

JEFF FISHER, Defensive coordinator

The man looks as intimidating as a game-show host, but his style of defense has become one of the most feared in the NFL. Fisher ran Ryan's 4-3 the past two seasons with the Eagles and was a major influence on the scheme as far back as 1986, his first year in coaching. He was then a 27-year-old defensive backs coach.

In his two years as defensive coordinator, the Eagles were eighth and 12th in total defense and averaged 54 quarterback sacks per season.

Fisher was hired by Coach John Robinson to bring some of that Philly fire to a Ram defense that was getting burned more often than it was burning last season.

"You have two things to concern yourself with when you come in," Fisher said. "No. 1, you have to evaluate the personnel. Identify who should be playing and where and create a competitive situation.

"Now, we're in the process of creating a new defensive personality, more aggressive, more tenacious, more enthusiastic and more emotional."

Fisher has a wealth of first-hand knowledge when it comes to emotional defense. He played for Robinson at USC in a secondary that included Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith and Joey Browner. And he played five seasons with the Chicago Bears as a defensive back and punt returner.

He also knows that many of his players have never played for anyone but former defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur. He doesn't think past loyalties are a factor, however.

"You don't come into this thing worrying about the players' loyalty or lack of loyalty to past coaches," he said. "And you don't worry about whether they like you or whether they don't, really.

"I think this defensive staff is just being ourselves. We're here to help them improve."

JIMMY RAYE, Passing/receivers coach

Raye was the Rams' offensive coordinator in 1984 and his round-trip ticket carried him through Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New England before he returned to Anaheim.

Offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese's offense may be somewhat complicated, but Raye, entering his 15th season as an NFL coach, has just about seen it all.

"The biggest adjustment is in terminology," he said. "Mainly, the nomenclature is different. You have to get acclimated to saying things the way the players are used to hearing it.

"I've been so many places, I seldom hear something I haven't heard before. But the little nuances can be different."

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