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Chandler to Start Sunday, Knox Says

November 08, 1994|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Ram Coach Chuck Knox broke from tradition Monday and named Chris Chandler the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Raiders, quashing any talk of a quarterback controversy by demoting Chris Miller to a $3 million-a-year backup.

Knox normally doesn't make personnel decisions on Mondays, but named Chandler the starter for the second consecutive week based on his play Sunday in the Rams' 27-21 victory over Denver.

But Knox has wavered between Miller and Chandler all season. Is the starting job Chandler's to keep, or lose?

"I don't think anything is ever etched in stone," Knox said. "He had a big game yesterday and we'll go on from here."

So he has won the starting job?

"He'll start this week," Knox said. "What is 'won the job?' I don't know what you're talking about. That's a categorical statement."

Barring injury, has Chandler solidified himself as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season?

"I just said he's starting this week," Knox said. "I don't think I need to put it any other way."

The Rams are 4-5 and need a victory over the Raiders to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Does having one starter down the stretch give the Rams continuity they need on offense?

"Yes, it's obvious that Chandler has got the work," Knox said. "We had the bye week and Miller was injured. Chandler got the work and played very well."

Chandler said he thought he won the starting job after filling in Sunday for Miller, who was still feeling some effects from his concussion from the New Orleans game. Chandler completed 19 of 25 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns against a Denver secondary that's ranked last in the league, and improved his record as the Rams' starter to 2-1.

Chandler suffered a mild concussion when he hit helmet-to-helmet with Denver's Steve Atwater on a quarterback sneak. Chandler said Monday that he felt fine. Miller said he needs more time to recover from his concussion.

"Sure there's some disappointment," Miller said of his demotion, "but I understand why. Chris played well and my head still isn't healed all the way. That's no excuse. This just gives me more time to get it right."

Miller also denied a TV report by Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Len Pasquarelli that he was considering retirement because of the concussion.

"I never talked to Len," Miller said. "I haven't said that to anybody. I don't know why Len would (say) that. Maybe he got together with (Chris) Mortensen and put that one together."

Mortensen reported on ESPN earlier this season that Knox thought Miller was a "prima donna" and was upset with his quarterback's play. Knox later denied the report, saying he never spoke with Mortensen.

But Knox is known to be a strong Chandler supporter, and is giving Chandler, who signed a one-year $600,000 contract last spring, a shot at starting over Miller, who's making five times as much money.

Injuries have kept Miller from starting an entire NFL season, which is why the Rams pursued a proven starter in the off-season. The team originally courted Chandler as a starter, but brought him in as a backup after signing Miller to the three-year deal.

"We've always liked Chandler," Knox said. "We liked him coming out of college at Washington. Our staff had him at the Senior Bowl.

"In the off-season, we knew we needed another quarterback to go with Miller. We're just glad we got the two guys."

Chandler lost starting jobs at Tampa Bay and Arizona, but views this situation as the perfect opportunity to establish himself as a permanent starter--and land a contract extension with the Rams.

He becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season and will be highly marketable because expansion teams in Charlotte and Jacksonville will be seeking starters and backups. Although Chandler could probably seek more money elsewhere, he said he would like to re-sign with the Rams.

"In a perfect world, once you're established in this system you really wouldn't want to leave it," he said. "I've gotten comfortable with the system. I've gotten comfortable with the guys. I feel like I have the guys' respect.

"You see a lot of quarterbacks in this league move around and it takes a while to come in, learn a system and get the respect. I would like to stay here, where the grass is already green."

But if the team decides to move, the grass could be in Baltimore or the artificial turf in St. Louis' new domed stadium. No problem, Chandler said.

"The organization is still the organization," he said. "They will still have the offensive line. They will still have the defense.

"If the team moves, it moves . . . but the guys on the team are going to stay the same. I would like to stay with this organization. Once you've gained the respect of your teammates, it's hard to leave that."

Chandler earned that respect Sunday, leading the Rams' offense to three touchdowns, the most since Oct. 14 of last season.

"Chandler was mistake-free," wide receiver Flipper Anderson said. "He had an interception, but that was more my fault than his. It just seems with Chris, the team has a different attitude. We go down there and get points."

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