When Coach Sid Gillman could not resolve his differences with Norman Van Brocklin, he gave up probably the best passer in professional football. Relying now on Bill Wade, Gillman may find trouble untracking a strong enough passing offense. Behind Wade is Frank Ryan, an atomic physics major from Rice, who is also a good passer. In front of Wade are some very good receivers—Jon Arnett, Leon Clarke, Lamar Lundy and Del Shofner. The Rams have adequate replacements for these receivers; a serious injury to any one of them would not hurt much.
Ron Waller, one of the best running backs in the league, will be out for one or two games with a shoulder separation. Arnett, most valuable to the club as an end, has been moved to halfback to take up the slack. Tom Wilson, a fine runner two years ago, has net regained his rookie form; Joe Marconi, the Ram fullback, is a sound, strong runner but his replacement, Rookie Jim Jones, is small. The Rams are clearly thin in the running department, where more injuries occur than at any other position in pro football.
The Rams, with plenty of experience in their secondary defense, calked up a leaky spot by obtaining Jim Harris from Philadelphia on a trade and can depend on strong defensive end play to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Will Sherman is the old head among the defensive backs. In this trade in which experience is probably the most valuable asset, the Ram secondary appears sound and sure.
The addition of John (Bigger Daddy) Baker to the Ram defensive line at tackle and some personnel juggling should bring that line up from a journeyman group to a good one. The Rams' fine linebackers—Les Richter, Dick Daugherty and Larry Morris—did much to cover up the holes in the Ram line. The Rams leaked for 1,845 yards on the ground last season, and figure to do better in 1958.
If the Rams' starting offensive and defensive units remain healthy, the Los Angeles team could improve on last year's record. But the club lost too much in offensive ends (Hirsch and Boyd), running backs and at quarterback to be thoroughly sound.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
COACH: FRANK ALBERT
1957 RECORD: W 8, L 4, TIED FOR 1ST (LOST TO DETROIT IN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF)
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 3, L 3, T 0
When All-Pro End Billy Wilson injured his shoulder in a preseason game, it cost the 49ers the services of probably the finest all-round pass catcher in the league, with the possible exception of Harlon Hill. Since this team reflects the hell-for-leather, gamble-and-be-damned personality of Frankie Albert remarkably well, any impairment of its reckless passing game will hurt. In Jim Pace and Abe Woodson, Albert has a couple of very fast rookies who can serve as targets for Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie. Tittle is one of the most consistent throwers in the business, and Brodie has shown signs of greatness-to-be. Clyde Connor, the acrobat, and R. C. Owens, who brought basketball to the gridiron with his amazing leaping catches last season, create an inviting target area for the quarterbacks. This could be the best pass offense in the league.
Joe Perry, the 31-year-old 49er fullback, is looking better than he has for four years; Hugh McElhenny, the once-incomparable halfback, is ready. Since the Perry-McElhenny wallop has been one of the best punches in pro football for several years, the San Francisco running is solid. Albert has solid help for the big two in Gene Babb at fullback and Pace or Woodson at half.
The most porous secondary in the league will probably continue to leak. Albert has patched up his umbrella in spots—Jerry Mertens, the 49ers' 20th draft selection, may be the best defensive halfback on the team after Dicky Moegle. A robust defensive line and quick linebackers help the pass defense, but not enough.