Quarterback Jim Everett of the Los Angeles Rams had not planned to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame during his team's trip to Canton, Ohio. Yet there he was in shorts and sneakers on Saturday afternoon, knee-deep in memorabilia only two hours before the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals were scheduled to open the NFL exhibition season in the annual Hall of Fame Game. "Actually, I was just trying to find the locker room," said Everett later. "I was totally lost."
If he had walked a bit farther into the rotunda on the hall's main floor, he would have stumbled upon an 8 X 10 photograph of himself in a display entitled "Professional Football Today." Beside the picture and a Ram helmet are these words: "Rising Star Jim Everett. One of the NFL's Bright Young QBs."
Such flattering billing is nothing new for the 25-year-old Everett. The Houston Oilers used similar superlatives when they made him the third pick of the 1986 NFL draft and the first quarterback chosen. Five months later, after contract talks with the Oilers had reached an impasse, Los Angeles put Everett back in the spotlight by obtaining the rights to him in a blockbuster trade. To land Everett, the Rams gave up two first-round picks, one fifth-round selection, Pro Bowl guard Kent Hill and defensive end William Fuller. They then signed Everett to a $3 million, four-year contract, which placed him among the highest-paid signal callers in the league.
Right away the 6'5", 212-pound Everett was looked upon as the savior of the Rams, the missing link in coach John Robinson's run-dominated offense. Talk about pressure. "I loved it," Everett says. "I eat that stuff up."
But now, after two seasons and 16 starts, can Everett be properly classified as "One of the NFL's Bright Young QBs"? Well, while directing the first team in the first quarter of Saturday's 14-7 loss to the Bengals, Everett certainly looked capable. On the game's opening series, he marched the Rams 76 yards in 13 plays to the Cincinnati four-yard line, completing four passes for first downs. However, the drive ended when fullback Mike Guman ran into Everett on a handoff and fumbled.
The next time the Rams got the ball, Everett moved them again. On third-and-12 from the L.A. 36, he sent wide receiver Henry Ellard on a slant pattern. The pass was right on the numbers, but Ellard dropped it. Another typical preseason mistake. After that, Everett donned a blue Ram cap and spent the rest of the afternoon on the sideline. He finished with seven completions in nine attempts for 72 yards.
Last season Everett felt a lot less comfortable with the Ram offense. After L.A. finished last in the NFL in passing in 1986, Robinson brought in Ernie Zampese, the brains behind Air Coryell in San Diego. Everett, who had started the final five games of '86, had a lot of learning—and adjusting—to do. He had been a deep, seven-step drop-back passer at Purdue, but to operate Zampese's controlled attack, which relies on precisely timed patterns, he needed to shorten his drops by five yards, to three or five steps. Instead of standing back and waiting for a receiver to get open, he had to scan the field and release the ball before the receiver made his cut.
In some games Everett appeared tentative and flustered. In others, he looked confused, even disgusted. The Rams limped to a 6-9 record, and Everett finished with a 68.4 quarterback rating, which put him 23rd among the 27 NFL quarterbacks who were rated.
Some problems weren't Everett's fault. Zampese's attack demands quick, disciplined receivers with good hands. Only Ellard, a Pro Bowl punt returner in 1984, filled the bill. Ron Brown, the sprinter who has since given up football to concentrate on track, ran inconsistent routes and didn't get the hang of catching. At 285 pounds, tight end David Hill was a far better blocker than receiver. As for the pass-catching abilities of the running backs, Guman was adequate; Charles White, who nursed a broken finger for much of the season, was lousy; and, according to Everett, Eric Dickerson was "indifferent" to the Zampese passing attack before being traded to the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 31.
" Dickerson put himself here," says Everett, holding his hand high over his head. "And he put the rest of us down here. That's hard on a team. The trade really brought us together. We all feel like we're peers now, more blue-collar."