Steinberg's rookies will be tested. So far the top four picks—John Stephens, a power runner; Vincent Brown, a linebacker: Tom Rehder, a tackle; and Sammy Martin, a wideout—have passed muster. The Patriots are thin in spots. Injuries could be devastating. Rookies must come through—and so must an owner.
If you've got playoff-caliber people and they don't perform, you end up watching the playoffs on TV. This is what the NEW YORK JETS, who finished 6-9, did last year. Practically their entire Pro Bowl roster was missing in action: Joe Klecko, Lance Mehl, and Wesley Walker, injured; Joe Fields and Freeman McNeil, off-and-on injured; Mark Gastineau. ineffective. Only wide-out Al Toon and quarterback Ken O'Brien were effective. Toon had a magnificent year. O'Brien? Well, in an unbelievable bit of front-office mismanagement, which shows that these people really don't understand football, he had bonus clauses inserted into his contract that were keyed to his rankings in completion percentage and quarterback-rating points. They took a down-the-field thrower and made a dinker out of him. But there's a darker side to the picture. Under coach Joe Walton, the Jets are 4-12 in December. When linebacker Bob Crable, one of New York's better players, suggested that the club hire a consultant to study why it suffers late-season collapses, he found himself in the doghouse. No consultant was hired. Instead, president Jim Kensil retired, a plus, but the Jets have yet to hire a football man to oversee their operation.
In December came the heavy bitching. Some players, under cover of anonymity, complained to the press that Walton couldn't communicate with his team. One newspaper identified the players as 1, 2, 3 and 4. Another called them A, B and C. Spy stuff. The writers were on the CIA beat. I ran into Player A in the off-season. "Tell me, A," I said, "if you wanted to sound off on something important, why didn't you use your name?"
"Are you kidding?" he said. "I'd be gone."
Such is the grim atmosphere surrounding the team. Still, a sprinkling of those ex-Pro Bowlers remains. The draft was heavy in defensive backs. Dave Cadigan, the Jets' No. 1 pick, was installed as the offensive left tackle, and the best thing about that is that the incumbent. Jim Sweeney, was moved to center, where he has looked terrific. But the Jets are a bubbling cauldron. Stay tuned. You will be reading a lot more about their problems.
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