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ANALYSIS : Miller Gets the Nod, Surprising Chandler

October 13, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chris Miller was named the Rams' starting quarterback Wednesday, and Coach Chuck Knox said there was never any doubt.

On Tuesday, however, Knox said he would wait until Wednesday, review medical updates and then make his decision.

What decision? Miller was sound and coming off a solid performance against the Green Bay Packers.

After listing Chris Chandler as questionable Wednesday for Sunday's game against the New York Giants because of a sore ankle, Knox summoned Miller to his office and told him he would be starting.

Did Knox call Jerome Bettis to his office? Robert Young? Flipper Anderson? If Miller is the team's acknowledged No. 1 quarterback, why did Knox meet separately with Miller and Chandler on Wednesday? Why is there a feeling at Rams Park that Miller is on a short leash, and one slip-up and Chandler is in command? Why did Chandler report to work Wednesday believing he was going to be named the starter?

"How could there be any question?" Knox said. "Chris Miller is the starting quarterback, he was the starting quarterback, he got hurt. He's back to being the starting quarterback. OK?

"I'm not going to get into short leashes, long leashes, next week, the end of the year and all that type of stuff that you people want so you can put somebody in a trick bag. That's not what I'm talking about. He is the starting quarterback. I can't make it any more emphatic than that."

It's no secret, however, that Knox has high regard for Chandler and that he has become irritated with Miller's penchant for making excuses when things do not go well. It has been mentioned by several of his assistants and it has been discussed in the team's front office.

"I have never said that," Knox said. "I have never said that I favored one quarterback over the other. That is not known, because I have never said it. You can hear that from this person or that person, but you never heard it from me. So you're asking me now, and I'm telling: Yes, I have said we can win with Chris Chandler because I feel we can. I said that when Chris Miller was out and was not going to be playing. Just like we can win with Chris Miller, and Chris Miller played well, and he is the starter.

"I'm not dealing in perceptions. I'm talking with reality, and I've just answered the questions."

The Rams gave Miller $9 million for three years to replace Jim Everett, and then gave Chandler a one-year contract for $600,000 to be Miller's backup. There should be no debate, but after six games the gap between starter and backup has all but disappeared.

"When I came in today I anticipated I was going to be going as the starter this week," said Chandler, who led the Rams to a 16-0 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 25. "But I understand Chuck's thought that he would like to see it in practice first, that I can go on the ankle. I just know the ankle feels like it's going to be ready to go."

If Chandler, who has completed 58.7% of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions, were 100% sound, would Knox have made him his starter?

Knox doesn't answer hypothetical questions, but it appears Miller's stock has plummeted for a variety of reasons: Miller has completed 50% of his passes with four touchdowns and five interceptions; he has shown an inability to stay free of injury; and when asked questions, he has elected to answer honestly rather than respond with football cliches.

"He's pretty good when he's healthy," said Mike Martz, Ram quarterback coach. "I don't think he's ever been himself since the first week of camp. I know he hasn't. Some unfortunate things have happened to him; he's just kind of an unlucky guy."

Miller injured an abdominal muscle early in training camp and his play deteriorated. He suffered a rib injury in the regular-season opener against Arizona, and after receiving painkilling injections to continue playing, he injured his shoulder against San Francisco.

He returned to start against Green Bay after sitting out the second game against Atlanta.

"There's a big difference now in the way he's throwing the ball," Martz said. "He's getting it back.

"We're very fortunate to have both of them (Miller and Chandler). The other guy is a legitimate starter in this league."

Said Miller: "I felt I played well Sunday and now I'm planning on playing well and putting all that other stuff behind us. I expect to pick this team up and help win the next two games and be where we want to be at the bye with an opportunity to do some good things during the second half of the season.

"A lot of people are searching right now; that happens when a team goes 2-4. Mentally, it's been hard on me just because I haven't been 100% physically and that's showed in my play. And then, when you're not on the field, how the hell can you be a leader? I'm back now, and that's what I plan on doing."

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