With no powerful teams threatening to block the way, don't be too surprised if the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS repeat as division champs. They have a terrific fullback in John L. Williams, a productive quarterback in Dave Krieg, a competent pass-catching contingent and some superb offensive linemen. So what's wrong?
The defense against the run, for starters. Physical teams shoved Seattle around in '88. Brian Bosworth was supposed to be a sturdy, plugging, inside linebacker, but he was injured and ineffective. "When you're not well liked by your teammates," says one coach, "you do two things. You keep your mouth shut and play like hell. Boz didn't do either." The draft didn't provide much defensive help.
Curt Warner, the franchise runner, was accused of tiptoeing through 1988, but he says he got a bum rap. "I'm getting blasted," says Warner, "and all I did was play a whole year on an ankle that had had two operations [before the season]."
He wanted to come back strong this year, but his right knee, on which he had surgery in 1984, popped some cartilage in camp. If Warner makes a miraculous return to full strength, the Seahawks will have one of the league's best running back combos—and that could be enough to steal the division.
The LOS ANGELES RAIDERS were scrimmaging the Cowboys in Oxnard, Calif., when Al Davis stepped onto the field. "That's enough of that," Davis told the Raider defense. He then turned to the Cowboy offense and said, "Give us a four-wideout look." Dallas did. Afterward, the L.A. players were breaking up. "Did you see that?" said one. "Did you see the way Al stopped the scrimmage? Even the Cowboys listened to him. Hey, Al's back."
The Raiders had slipped further and further away from Davis while he carried legal briefs into courtrooms throughout the land. Now he appears to be taking a tighter hold. When camp opened, L.A. had seven players who had made the Pro Bowl for other teams. The best of Davis's foreign legion could be former Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder, who spent the off-season in the Raider complex, working on his playbook and his throwing. "We opened it up in the last game of 1988, and you saw the result," says Schroeder about the 331 passing yards and 37 points Los Angeles got against Seattle. "That's the way we're going to go now—the old Raider way."
Defensive end Howie Long had what he calls a "totally dedicated" off-season. He proved it by running a 4.78 40 in camp. Steve Wisniewski, L.A.'s second pick in the draft, should be an outstanding right guard. Marcus Allen missed all of camp seeking a new contract, though he has returned for the start of the season. Bo Jackson is hitting gappers for the K.C. Royals. The show may not be great, but what a cast.
Bobby Beathard hangs over the trade that brought Jim McMahon to the SAN DIEGO CHARGERS from the Bears. Rumor has it that Beathard will be the Chargers' general manager in 1990. That must make San Diego's current director of football operations, Steve Ortmayer, feel great. So what's Ortmayer's play? Concentrate on winning right away. Make it impossible, or at least embarrassing, for the club to fire him.
If the future were secure, Ortmayer and coach Dan Henning could wait for quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, the hot rookie they drafted in the second round, to develop. But the owner, Alex Spanos, is a table-pounder, a let's-get-it-done kind of guy. Henning, who was doing a solid job in Atlanta when he was fired following the 1986 season, knows all about impatient owners.
So he and Ortmayer must squeeze out as many wins as they can this year. McMahon, 30 and injury-prone, might not be the long-term answer, but Tolliver will miss at least the first six weeks of the season because of a broken collarbone, and in any case McMahon is better than Tolliver or anyone else the Chargers have. Try this scenario: McMahon has a hot year and exerts his fabled leadership qualities. All those 300-pound linemen San Diego picked up in this spring's Plan B free-agent grab bag become blocking demons, and an obscure 248-pound rookie fullback named Marion Butts becomes a killer. (Butts's offensive coordinator at Florida State, Wayne McDuffie, once called him " John Dillinger in headgear.") The defense rises to the occasion. End Leslie O'Neal is a big hit at his new position, linebacker. The fans fall in love with these overachievers. Spanos is satisfied.