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Ex-Falcon Quarterback Miller Signs With Rams : Football: Injuries have marred the career of the precision passer, who signed a 3-year, $9-million pact.

March 08, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Quarterback Chris Miller, known best for his passing accuracy and penchant for getting hurt, signed a three-year, $9-million contract Monday to play quarterback for the Rams, his boyhood heroes while growing up in Claremont.

"I know I will help the Rams a bunch," said Miller, who will require one to three months of further rehabilitation on his surgically repaired left knee before being cleared for unlimited work. "I've had some bad luck injury-wise, but my knee feels great. I've been running, and it's only March, and I have the time to get it stronger."

The Rams, desperate for a starting quarterback after Jim Everett's belly-flop in 1993 and T.J. Rubley's failure to make a favorable impression, had talked about pursuing Green Bay's Brett Favre or Miami's Scott Mitchell or trading for Houston's Warren Moon.

But after inspection, the Rams went with Miller, a Pro Bowl selection for Atlanta after the 1991 season but a player who has twice undergone reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

The Rams gave Miller, 28, a $900,000 signing bonus with yearly salaries of $2.1 million, $2.7 million and $3.3 million. They also maintained a first right of refusal on Miller, who earned $1.85 million with the Atlanta Falcons last year, once his contract expires following the 1996 season.

Team physicians put Miller through a four-hour examination last week and told Coach Chuck Knox that Miller's knee was at no more risk than any other player's on the team. Miller also worked out for Knox at Rams Park.

"He will definitely be ready for our mini-camp (in May)," Knox said. "He's almost 100% right now. He's going to move here right away and we will have him continue his rehab under the direction of our team doctors and our trainers."

Miller tripped on the Georgia Dome artificial turf in the eighth game of the 1992 season--against the Rams--and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. After undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, he out-dueled Bobby Hebert for the Falcons' starting job in 1993 but played poorly and was replaced by Hebert in the third game.

Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville inserted Miller into the fourth game of the season with the Falcons trailing the Steelers, 45-17. There were 13 minutes remaining on the clock, and on his first play in the game, Miller re-injured his left knee.

Miller, who played at the University of Oregon and lives in Eugene, Ore., has missed playing time in his seven pro seasons because of a bruised chest, cracked ribs, sprained ankle, sprained knee and a broken collarbone that required the insertion of a steel plate and accompanying screws.

"I never dreamed he would pass our physical examination; I wasn't even considering him as a likely candidate for that reason," said Joe Vitt, Rams assistant head coach. "But the doctors said he is a month ahead in rehab and we have computer reports tracking his progress.

"You meet him, and you have to like the guy. This was a great quarterback when he was healthy, and that's it--that's the whole thing. If he stays healthy, we've got a good one."

Only Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath and Bernie Kosar reached the 10,000-yard mark in passing at an earlier age than Miller. In the last three seasons he has thrown 42 touchdown passes with only 27 interceptions.

Miller was effective in the Falcons' pass-happy, run-and-shoot attack. But he was also hurt by an offensive philosophy that used more players to catch the ball and fewer to block--and protect the quarterback. His new assignment with the Rams--focus on getting the ball to running back Jerome Bettis, a sensation as a rookie last season, and then fake handoffs to Bettis to throw deep--should keep him out of harm's way.

"I haven't run a play-action pass in four years, which will be a nice change," Miller said. "It's a refreshing start, and I like the idea of having a big horse like Bettis back there to carry the ball.

"I wanted to stay on the West Coast, and I wanted to play on grass, and the Rams were my No. 1 choice."

The Rams decided weeks ago to trade Everett, who started 87 consecutive games before losing his job, but they have been waiting to hire a replacement before doing so. The team has talked to the New Orleans Saints about a trade for Everett, who was never the same after dropping to the ground in what became known as the phantom sack in the NFC championship game against San Francisco following the 1989 season.

Under the NFL's new salary cap, Everett's projected earnings of $2.65 million in 1994 count against the Rams' total and therefore will undoubtedly motivate the team to deal him quickly. Miller will cost the Rams $2.4 million this season: $2.1-million base salary and a $900,000 signing bonus prorated over three years.

Miller considers himself a long-time Rams fan, although he moved to Eugene at age 10.

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