Larry Tharpe, the new, 299-pound right tackle, got a $1 million contract, mainly because Ryan's son, Jim, is his agent. Tharpe did zero at Detroit, except with a knife and fork. We'll wait and see here. Otherwise the line should be O.K. If the offense is productive, Arizona will be a playoff team because the defense is, in typical Ryan fashion, dynamic. Aeneas Williams is the best cornerback in the business, not as flashy as Deion but more sound fundamentally. Left tackle Eric Swann was the best defensive lineman in football in the preseason. Just ask the Bears, whom he pulverized for four sacks and nine tackles.
Not to be overlooked on a team whose game is defense and field position is punter Jeff Feagles. He hit one punt in practice that had a 5.69 hang time, and that was off a one-bounce snap. How do I know? I clocked it. We leave no stone unturned here.
In his third year with the New York Giants, Dan Reeves is the elder statesman among NFC East coaches. He projects stability, control, a sense of command. Under him the Giants have gone through a transition period, losing the premier stars from their Super Bowl days, but they still had a winning record in each of the last two seasons, falling one game short of the playoffs in 1994. Clearly Reeves knows how to coach, but he's going to be sorely tested this year, by matters beyond his control.
Injuries are always dreadful, but they become worse when they pile up in one area. Four offensive linemen have gone down since the start of training camp. One of them, Scott Gragg, is a rookie who figured to be a backup, but the other three were starters. The most serious injury was to left guard Scott Davis, who is lost for the season with a damaged left knee. Davis was slated to replace William Roberts, who was let go because of one of those salary-cap-versus-productive-years-left formulas. The Giants wish they had him back now. The other two injured first-stringers, center Brian Williams and right tackle Doug Riesenberg, are expected to return sometime this month.
This might be a reach, but I've seen it happen too often to call it pure coincidence. A banged-up O-line equals an unsettled offense, which means that a quarterback or runner gets caught in uncomfortable situations and bad things happen. Quarterback Dave Brown hurt his elbow in the first preseason game and then suffered a concussion in the final one last Saturday. The No. 1 draft choice, tailback Tyrone Wheatley, has a couple of cracked ribs.
Now let's look at the start of the Giants' schedule—Dallas at home in a Monday-nighter, followed by Kansas City and Green Bay on the road. Could be a shaky start. Reeves went through a seven-game losing streak last year that had the New York tabloids screaming about the death of the franchise. Then came a six-game winning streak to close the season, and that had them singing Ave Marias. If anyone can handle pressure, Reeves can.
Brown, for whom 1994 was his first year as a starter, learned how to work an offense. Free agency took away Dave Meggett, a terrific little third-down receiver, and brought Herschel Walker, who will combine the Meggett role with that of fullback. A strange player is Herschel. He is ordinary for three quarters, and then everyone else seems to get more tired than he does, and that's when he starts breaking tackles.
The defense, now a pure 4-3, gets a good workday from middle linebacker Michael Brooks and tackle Stacey Dillard. This team could reach the playoffs, or it could struggle to extricate itself out of an early hole. It all depends on who gets healthy, and how quickly.
Mark Twain's wife once tried to cure him of swearing by indulging in some serious cursing herself. Twain listened to her salty tongue for a while and then told her, "You got the words right, but you don't know the tune." That's the way Randall Cunningham looks to me in the short-drop offense that Ray Rhodes, the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, brought with him from San Francisco. The patterns and everything are there, but somehow it just doesn't look right. Rhodes is a positive guy. Ask him about how Cunningham is adjusting and he says, "Randall's taken to it real well. There were days in practice when he looked like Joe Montana or Steve Young."
The Eagles, whose offensive coach, Jon Gruden, learned the 49er system under Mike Holmgren, both in San Francisco and Green Bay, are committed to the quick-read attack, and we'll have to see how well Cunningham, who has had trouble executing a game plan, fits into Gruden's style. The petulant Ricky Watters has been imported from San Francisco to help the running game, and woe to the quarterback who doesn't call his number often enough. Little Charlie Garner still looks like the team's best runner, but here's the thing about the 49er-style ground game: It's keyed by light, mobile linemen, trapping and cutting and blocking on the go. Philadelphia's front group is more of a hog type. "The running game will be tailored to their talents," Rhodes says.