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White Gets to Work by Process of Elimination : Rams: With other backs not available, rookie has a big opportunity against Chargers.


The crutches are piling up, but Russell White remains on his feet, and tonight he gets the opportunity to make a run for prime-time consideration.

The Rams will play the San Diego Chargers in an exhibition at Anaheim Stadium and will do so without running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis suffered an ankle injury in practice this week, has been placed on crutches and will be sidelined for two to three weeks.

Anthony Thompson, who gained 28 yards in seven carries last week, will start at tailback against the Chargers, with Tim Lester at fullback. The Rams' depth chart, however, is no longer as deep as when they selected White in the third round of the NFL draft.

Running back David Lang will be sidelined for three months because of a knee injury. Cleveland Gary, the team's leading receiver and rusher of a year ago, is a holdout.

"A real big door has been opened for Russell," said Chick Harris, Ram running backs coach. "He has a chance now to go out there and prove his worth. You couldn't ask for anything better for a guy who is competing for a job."

White, out of Crespi High and California, didn't play until the fourth quarter in last Saturday's exhibition opener against the Phoenix Cardinals in Tempe, Ariz.

He ran six times for 26 yards and caught two passes for 33 yards.

"Now you'd like to put him in there when there are first-teamers around and see what he does," Harris said. "He'll get an opportunity to be with a pretty good group of people (tonight)."

White emerged as the team's most impressive rookie in mini-camp, and he has remained a consistent performer throughout training camp. The Rams believe he has the stamina to be their first-down back, while also having the pass-catching talents to make himself valuable on third downs.

"I know I can play," White said. "The wake-up call came when the veterans first showed up in training camp. I got leveled twice in the same day, and I thought, whoa, this is the real league.

"But after Phoenix, it was like, OK, this is kind of cool: I feel I can do this."

Ram fans who caught a glimpse of White against Phoenix should be on alert to look for No. 44 tonight rather than for No. 24, which he wore last week.

"I was a little leery of No. 24 when I first got it," White said. "I mean the 20s just never really rubbed me the right way. I asked my mother how I looked in it, and she didn't think much of it.

"I got so attached to No. 4. I had it in Pop Warner, in high school and in college. Twenty-four didn't look right, but two fours are cool."

Harris said he couldn't care less what number White wears.

"Whatever turns him on," Harris said. "If that makes him go for more yards, I'll go for it.

"We liked what we saw against Phoenix. He's worked hard, he's listened, he's responded to the coaching and now he's going to get a lot of exposure."

The Rams will start Jim Everett at quarterback and then bring on T.J. Rubley, while the Chargers counter with Stan Humphries, John Friesz and rookie Trent Green.

The Chargers defeated the New England Patriots, 13-7, last week, but have been hit hard by injuries. Starting cornerback Gill Byrd is sidelined for the season because of a knee injury, and starting defensive tackle Shawn Lee recently suffered with a broken leg. Defensive linemen Blaise Winter (ankle), Chris Mims (ankle) and Burt Grossman (knee) have also been injured.

Running back Ronnie Harmon and defensive end Leslie O'Neal remain unsigned.

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