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."
August 7, 1988
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."
To teach his offense, Zampese would diagram plays on a blackboard and then show film clips of San Diego games to underscore his points. After that, he would haul the offense onto the field and practice plays over and over without the defense. "In San Diego, guys caught on more easily," says Zampese. "The offense was built around Dan Fouts. Charlie Joiner was already there. We always had people who could demonstrate."
Adds Everett, "By the end of last year, I started understanding Ernie's offense. I still make plenty of mistakes. I still get confused. I'll think too much about what I have to do. When that happens, I remind myself of the old motto, Keep it simple, stupid."
Everett spent the off-season training like crazy. On weekdays he lifted weights, biked, ran sprints and performed agility drills at the Rams' practice facility in Anaheim. On Sundays he went for long runs, sometimes as far as 10 miles. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays Everett threw to receivers. He concentrated on making his stance more compact and on following through with a consistent throwing motion.
"Jim used to drop back, spread his body wide, swing one leg out and throw as hard as he could," says Zampese. "He'd throw overhead, three-quarters or side-armed. He'd step toward a target or six inches to the left. The ball went in all different directions. Keeping his feet under him and making his body more compact is similar to shooting an anchored shotgun. If you put the barrel in a vice, then set the butt somewhere, you'll be more accurate."
Everett knows that the Rams' success—or lack of it—this season will mirror his own, and he hasn't let the "rising star" label go to his head. "You know the movie The Natural?" he says. "Well, I'm not that guy. I'll always have to work on my footwork, my release, my throwing. The rankings say I'm in the lower part of the league. Well, I think each guy on each team does something different. It doesn't matter if I'm never mentioned in the same breath as John Elway or Dan Marino. I just want to be the quarterback this team needs."