Watching a scrimmage recently, Landry was unperturbed as the Cowboy offense completed passes almost at will on the defense. "We're a step behind on those passes," he said quietly. "That's because the defense is thinking about the assignment instead of reacting instinctively. By the time the season starts, we should have picked up that step. This is the second season in this system for all but one of the starters. It should come easier."
The Cowboy defensive line was made up of Bob Lilly (a first-draft choice in 1961), John Meyers (a tackle obtained in a trade with the Rams in 1962), Guy Reese and George Andrie, both 1962 draft choices. The middle linebacker was Jerry Tubbs, one of the charter members of the defense selected in 1960. (" Tubbs has to have a good year if the defense is to be adequate," Landry said. "The middle linebacker is the key to the defense against the run. No one ran on us last year because they didn't have to. They gained 15 yards every time they completed a pass.") The right linebacker was Chuck Howley, obtained in a trade with the Bears in 1961. On the left, a battle royal was going on among Price, Jordan and Harold Hays, another good rookie. In the defensive backfield were Cornell Green, a basketball player signed as a free agent; Mike Gaechter, a free agent from Oregon who was signed because of his speed; Jerry Norton, a 10-year veteran obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals; and Bishop, the other 1960 holdover.
Watching them work, Landry said, "Right now, our defense is all on a level. No heads pop up higher than the level. There aren't any players anyone is afraid of. We haven't established an image of monsters on this club. It's too young. That comes with time. I mean, the longer you play and the better you get, the easier it is, and not just because you, personally, have improved. Other clubs are afraid of you. When you get ready for the Giants, you play away from a Jim Patton, for instance. He has earned the right to be feared."
There are several of the Cowboy defenders who may earn this right during 1963. Lilly, the 6-foot-4, 251-pound defensive end, is in his third season and has improved each year. Andrie, the other end, was learning his trade last year. At 6 feet 7 and 264 pounds, he is capable of putting on a fearsome pass rush. Tubbs, who was an uncomfortable corner linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, has gained confidence under Landry, now rates among the better middle linebackers in the league.
The secondary, which was victimized frequently last season, gives promise of developing into a strong, cohesive unit this season. Green, the converted basketball player, has always been good at covering a receiver; this year he has learned that it is permissible, even desirable, to knock people down in football. Gaechter, who began to learn how to use his speed at the close of the 1962 season, has shown considerable gain in confidence. Norton, of course, is a competent veteran, and Bishop may already have begun to inspire fright. There is strong competition for each position; only Bishop seems assured of a starting post.
"We can upgrade the quality," Landry said. "We still lack depth. But what we're trying to do now is instill confidence and pride. I think by the time the season begins we'll have an adequate NFL defense."
In view of the potency of the Cowboy attack, an adequate defense should be all the team needs. If they can achieve even mediocrity on defense—and they should achieve more—the Cowboys will win the first of their Eastern championships. After the Cowboys, in order, should come the New York Giants, a team which won last year on an explosive offense backed by an aging but better than adequate defense; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; Philadelphia; Cleveland; and the Washington Redskins, who last year had the only defense in football less effective than the Cowboys.
NEW YORK GIANTS
A bald, 36-year-old gentleman who looks like the insurance executive he is during the off season and who goes by the name of Y. A. Tittle (above) remains the Giants' No. 1 quarterback. One of their running backs, upon occasion, will be Hugh McElhenny, 34, who began his career in 1952 with the 49ers. When both Tittle and McElhenny are in the game, the New York Giants doubtless will have the pros' oldest active backfield. It will also be one of the best. The Giants are seeking their third straight conference championship with almost the same team that won in 1961 and 1962, and they will hear the same lugubrious predictions that age has finally withered their skills. Yet there was no sign at the end of last year that this was so, and there is no sound reason to believe that it is now. Allie Sherman, who is not much older than some of his players, has made two major changes in the club: Rosey Grier, the big tackle who was a member of the Giants' sticky defensive line for seven seasons, was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for John LoVetere, as big but younger; Ray Wietecha, the All-Pro offensive center, has gone to the Rams as a coach and will be replaced by Greg Larson, moving over from tackle and guard. A second-year man, Bookie Bolin, takes Larson's place. Sherman has intact the sound defense and spectacular aerial attack to win again, but he needs more running backs and a quarterback to spell Tittle. These lacks, and not age, will be the difference between the Giants and Dallas.
If Ed Brown (above) can come close to his 1956 efficiency as a quarterback and Myron Pottios has recovered completely from a broken arm, Coach Buddy Parker's perennial optimism may be justified this season. Brown, who led the Chicago Bears to a division championship in 1956, has been less than good enough since then; Pottios, before his injury, was ranked as one of the best middle linebackers around. Big Daddy Lipscomb's shocking death left a hole in the Pitt defensive line, but Parker has one competent candidate to fill in—ex-49er Lou Cordileone. The Steeler defensive unit, good last year, should be better in 1963 after two full seasons of play together. And the linebackers, ridden with injuries last year, are potentially excellent. If Brown can hit the fine Steeler receivers, Buddy Dial and John Henry Johnson, consistently, and if Johnson can squeeze another good season out of his aging legs, the Steeler offense should match a defense that is experienced but not old. In 1962 the blocking of the Steeler offensive line improved steadily as the season wore on and at the year's end it was among the best both for pass protection and blocking. This is a club that has been heir to misfortune ever since it entered the league; should Parker change its luck, it could beat anyone and everyone. All really depends on Brown and, if not him, on Terry Nofsinger, his substitute who was untested last year, or on first-year Bill Nelsen, a good but unheralded quarterback from USC.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cardinal offense, a good one in 1962, was marred by one major fault: it managed to give away the ball almost every time it reached scoring range. Charley Johnson (below), still learning his trade as a quarterback, threw 20 interceptions; John David Crow, who conquered his role as a halfback long ago, fumbled 14 times, and the other Cardinal running backs demonstrated almost equal facility at mishandling a football. Johnson's difficulties were twofold: he had to unload quickly because of lack of protection and he was not experienced enough to find late-opening pass catchers. He has as good a set of receivers as there is to throw to: Sonny Randle caught 63 passes and Bobby Joe Conrad 62 last year. Taz Anderson, an excellent tight end, caught 35, and Crow, catching 23, found a thrown ball easier to control than a ball that was handed to him. Although Coach Wally Lemm is known for his defensive talents, he had troubles in that department, too. A soft spot in his secondary allowed opposing teams too many easy completions, and the line often leaked badly, especially after Middle Linebacker Dale Meinert went out with a knee injury in midseason. John Symank, obtained from Green Bay, and rookie Jerry Stovall may plug the holes in the deep defense, and a shuffling of the line, with the addition of rookie Don Brumm at end, may give the Cardinals a stronger rush against the passer. Still there are too many ifs standing in the way of a high finish for St. Louis.