Contest for QB; Backfield snags title-happy Rams still a poser for

One thing the Los Angeles Rams invariably kick better with their Gucci loafers than the official pro football are the laws of probability. After years of proving they couldn't win in the National Football League playoffs with better teams than they had last season, Los Angeles wound up in super Bowl XIV against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers and lost, 31- 19.

The wonder is that they got their act together long enough in the playoffs to first eliminate Tampa Bay, then Dallas.

Now, after 32 years of playing their home games in the Los Angeles coliseum, the Rams are moving approximately 35 miles down the freeway to Orange County and the green pastures of Anaheim Stadium. If the team's big-play offense materializes, the Rams should make the drive worth it by winning their eighth consecutive NFC Western Division title.

The only problem is in the backfield, where Coach Ray Malavasi will have to make a choice between quarterbacks Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo, and where an off-season injury to Wendell Tyler has temporarily left the team without an established breakaway runner.

Haden, the Rhodes scholar and five-year veteran who started the Rams' first 10 games last season until he broke a finger on his throwing hand, has an excellent personal won-lost record in pro football (30-12-1 as a starter with Los Angeles).

But the critics of the 5 ft. 10 in. field general often complain that he has trouble throwing over the outstretched arms of opposing linemen and that he is no scrambler on broken plays.

Ferragamo, who led the team to four victories in its last five regular-season games after replacing Haden, has a much stronger arm than Pat and picked the Dallas Cowboys' Flex defense apart in the playoffs with three long touchdown passes. Vince also has the height (6-3) that most NFL teams look for in a pro quarterback, and his performance under pressure in Super Bowl XIV was almost more than the Rams had a right to expect.

Although the ultimate QB choice lies with Malavasi (assuming owner Georgia Rosenbloom Frontiere doesn't interfere), Ray has a smoke screen that he likes to hide behind in situations like this.

"My policy has always been that a player who started the previous season should not lose his job because of an injury," Malavasi explained. "This goes for any position, including quarterback.

"We will continue to list Pat Haden as our No. 1 QB until someone beats him out. Naturally we also like Ferragamo. Vince made great progress last season, has a strong arm, and showed tremendous poisew in the Super Bowl."

Tyler, who was injured in an automobile accident on July 4, was the Rams' best running back last year and the key to their outside game. Even though Wendell didn't move into the team's starting lineup until Game No. 5, he gained 1,190 yards (10th best in the NFL), scored nine touchdowns, and finally learned to hold onto the football. Without Wendell in the lineup, the offense that Malavasi began experimenting with last season cannot proceed on schedule. It will also mean that opposing teams can now load up defensively against power fullback Cullen Bryant, who ran so well last year in traffic and who set so many of the blocks that sprang Tyler.

But once again the Rams (9-7 in 1979 despite many key injuries) should be a strong team in what is basically considered a weak division. And once they get Tyler back, opposing teams are not going to be able to cheat against them defensively.

The New Orleans Saints, division runners-up to Los Angeles last season, finished at 8-8; the Atlanta Falcons at 6-10; and the San Francisco 49ers at 2- 14. Although all three are expected to be better, none have the Rams' quality at so many positions.

When several of LA's top defensive players, including Jack Youngblood and Larry Brooks, learned that the team's No. 1 draft pick, defensive back Johnnie Johnson of Texas, had been given a contract worth more than $1 million, egos and wallets exploded all over the place.

Almost all of these veterans, some of whom are holdouts, are insisting that their present agreements be upgraded to at least Johnson's level. However, the Rams have a club policy, they say, that forbids the renegotiation of contracts.

About all Malavasi can do at this point is hope that the problem is solved quickly. Otherwise, his football is apt to lack a good deal of its precision timing.

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