Poised rookie takes control of Ram offense; Bears clinch

Outside Los Angeles, the positive image of rookie quarterback Jim Everett is just beginning to grow, fueled by glowing reports of rival National Football League scouts who have to suggest ways to put handcuffs on this kid. In just three games, Jim has become so much the cutting edge of the Rams' offense that veteran teammate Dennis Harrah calls him Blade! Everett's debut against the New England Patriots on Nov. 17 probably should have been bronzed like baby shoes. After relieving starter Steve Dils early in the second quarter with the Rams trailing 13-0, he threw for 193 yards and three touchdowns to propel his team to a 28-23 lead. His spectacular initial effort went for naught, however, as the Patriots pulled it out 30-28 via a desperation TD pass as time expired.

Still, it wasn't the figures that Everett had put on the scoreboard that L.A. players and coaches were talking most about, but his poise. And he showed the same field presence the following week, leading the Rams to a 26-13 victory over New Orleans.

And Sunday against the powerful New York Jets he did it again, tossing a 60-yard touchdown pass to Kevin House to give L.A. an early lead, then directing a ball-control offense the rest of the way as the Rams scored a 17-3 victory to maintain their position atop the NFC West Division.

Everett, a 6 ft. 5 in. former All-America from Purdue, was picked by Houston as the third player chosen overall in last year's college draft. The Oilers originally planned to sign him, but were turned off by his asking price and decided to make a trade instead. The Rams were interested, but complications arose and the deal wasn't completed until Sept. 19.

The price was high, too - two probable starters and three future draft choices, two of them first-round picks. But L.A. coach John Robinson felt that Everett was worth it.

``We paid full price because we had to outbid four other teams to get him,'' Robinson explained. ``But we think that Jim will make us a major factor in the NFL for years to come.''

While it's bad enough when a veteran misses training camp, when a rookie comes in cold after the season starts and has to learn a new system, everything takes twice as long. And this is particularly true for a quarterback, whose NFL career could be ruined by giving him too much responsibility too soon.

Since the Rams were already leading their division when Everett joined the team, with veteran quarterbacks Steve Bartkowski and Dils handling the offense, most observers were surprised when Robinson said he might start Jim before the season ended. To them the risk was too great, the speedup process unnecessary.

The thing is, Robinson wants to win more than his division title or a wild-card spot in the playoffs. And without more spark in the offense, the Rams' chances of going very far in postseason play didn't look that good.

But with Everett, who has occasionally looked as though he could throw a pass through the eye of a needle, the team could finally have the aerial game to open things up for its powerful running game led by Eric Dickerson. Couple these assets with L.A.'s strong defense and special teams, and even the Super Bowl might not be all that far away.

Of course John knows that's asking a lot from a kid who is still learning, still getting his act together, and still trying to find the seams in 101 different zone defenses. But you never know - and at the very least he has given Everett's confidence a terrific boost for next season. Elsewhere around the NFL

The Washington Redskins, who have been the National Football League's best team down the stretch over the past six seasons, are right on schedule after a grueling win against the St. Louis Cardinals. With 14 new players this season and a change in team personality from power to quickness, the Redskins don't pound on people anymore, but they don't commit many mistakes, either.

Since Jay Schroeder, who probably throws deep as well as any passer in the league, became their starting quarterback 11 games into last season, the Redskins have gone 15-3.

If the Chicago Bears are to succeed in defending their Super Bowl title, they are going to have to do it without regular quarterback Jim McMahon, who has been lost for the season with injuries. McMahon, who took a late hit two weeks ago from Charles Martin of the Green Bay Packers (who has since been suspended for that violation), had a perfect winning record in his last 23 starts. Backup Mike Tomczak has come through in his absence, however, as in Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, when he completed 19 of 30 attempts for 235 yards in a 13-10 victory. The win lifted the Bears' record to 11-2 and enabled them to clinch their third straight NFC Central Division championship with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

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