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Bettis Expected to Be Rams' Top Selection : Football: Because Georgia's Garrison Hearst apparently will be taken earlier, the team has switched its attention to the Notre Dame running back.


ANAHEIM — The Rams, who considered offering the New England Patriots all of their picks in today's NFL draft to acquire Georgia running back Garrison Hearst, apparently have decided to stay put. They are expected to select Notre Dame running back Jerome Bettis, if he is available.

"Ground Chuck," Bettis said. "Just the thought of playing for Chuck Knox gets me pumped up. Let's hope that's the way it goes."

Bettis, in New York today for the draft, earned the nickname, "Big Daddy" from his Irish teammates. Built like the Chargers' Marion Butts, he can run like a tailback while delivering the blows of a heavy-duty truck.

"I started it as a freshman," Bettis explained. "When I get hit, I pop back up off the ground and run back to the huddle. I try to demoralize the defense. It's like this, I'm pounding on you, pounding on you, and I'm running back to the huddle so I can pound on you some more."

Music to Knox's ears.

"He can move the pile, and he has the great ability to gain yardage after the first contact," Knox said. "That's the mark of any great running back."

The Rams, who are picking 10th, will be happy with Bettis, a 247-pound battering ram. They remain sold on Hearst, but after talking trade with the first four teams in the first round, they have found the price for moving forward prohibitive.

The Cardinals have made it known that they will take Hearst with the fourth selection. The Jets, who are picking third, were mulling an offer from Tampa Bay but still were expected to take Florida State linebacker Marvin Jones.

Seattle has the second choice and will take whichever quarterback New England does not. The Seahawks prefer Washington State's Drew Bledsoe but might wind up with Notre Dame's Rick Mirer.

The Colts, who are interested in Hearst, reportedly offered the Patriots defensive lineman Jon Hand and first-, second- and third-round picks in today's draft. The Patriots are holding out for a front-line player.

The Rams, who are in need of every one of their front-line players, have focused their attention on Bettis. But he is also on the Colts' wish list. If they fail to get Hearst, they might attempt to jump in front of the Rams for Bettis.

The Rams have prepared themselves for such a raid, and if Bettis is gone, they will take USC wide receiver Curtis Conway. If both Conway and Bettis are swiped, they will attempt to trade back in the first round and, for doing so, try to acquire an additional third-round pick.

Conway, considered the premier home-run hitter in this draft because of his outstanding speed, has intrigued the Rams. They lack such game-breaking ability, and they also have not been overwhelmed recently by the play of wide receiver Henry Ellard.

But Conway is not regarded as a polished receiver, and his development might take some time. The Rams believe that Bettis will provide an immediate impact.

If they fail to land Bettis, the Rams' search for a running back will continue. The team is concerned that free agent Cleveland Gary's contract demands will result in him reporting late to training camp. They also remain concerned about his continuing inability to hold onto the football.

The Chiefs said Saturday that Barry Word and Christian Okoye are available, and the Cardinals might be willing to deal Johnny Johnson if they get Hearst.

The Rams are also interested in North Carolina's Natrone Means and Notre Dame's Reggie Brooks, and while it's a longshot, they might be available in the second round.

In Bettis, the Rams would get a fullback who has enough tailback speed to turn the corner and gain big yardage. He gained 825 yards on 154 carries last season, scoring 10 touchdowns, and also averaged 15.9 yards per reception.

"I have a tailback mind in a fullback's body," Bettis said. "I have the thighs of a fullback, and I have grown up playing fullback. But I also think I have a little more running ability than the average fullback."

Bettis, who earned a reputation for playing his best football in big games, scored three touchdowns in the 1992 Sugar Bowl and three more in the 1993 Cotton Bowl.

He had to talk his mother into letting him leave the bowling alleys and play high school football.

"I've been a bowler all my life," he said. "I have about a 170 to 165 average now, but I don't get much time to roll these days. My mom didn't want me to play football because of the violence, but when I started playing, she didn't miss a game."

Bettis will undoubtedly help the Ram running game, but he is more suited to a one-back attack. The Rams have employed a one-back look, but as a rule, they prefer to mix it up. Bettis' acquisition will require some adjustment.

If the Rams get Bettis, they will still lack the speed needed for a big-play threat. Miami wide receiver Kevin Williams might solve that problem should he remain available in the second round.

The Rams are also searching for a pass-rushing linebacker, and Tennessee's Todd Kelly would be tough to pass on.

The Rams lack a fourth-round pick but have a selection in each of the other seven rounds. They acquired an additional eight-round pick from Cleveland to complete last year's trade of linebacker Frank Stams.

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