The most desperate lacks were at fullback, offensive tackle and defensive tackle. By the time I came to the Colts, the club had already drafted, and they had done a good job of plugging those holes. We had Bob Vogel at offensive tackle, Fred Miller at defensive tackle and then we picked up J. W. Lockett and a New York rookie named Nat Craddock at fullback. Vogel and Miller developed; the other two did not. Craddock did not play at all for us; Lockett was not the answer either and finally I settled on Jerry Hill, a tough, good runner and strong blocker from Wyoming. By the middle of the season he took over at fullback, and he got better as the year went on. I had tried to shuffle him around at several positions early in the season, but he is the kind of player who has to be given one assignment to live with. Once he settled down at fullback and felt comfortable in the blocking and running assignments he made the rest of the running go.
We started to move in the second half of the 1963 season, and we might have moved earlier but Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore were hurt and that took something out of the offensive. Vogel, Mackey, Hill and Miller started to learn their lessons. Miller led the club in tackles. Mackey was blocking well, and he gave us a deep threat on passes. Hill gave Johnny more protection on passes and he cleared the way for Tom Matte on runs. Vogel was what we needed on the offensive line to give Johnny protection. The rest of the line—Alex Sandusky, George Preas, Jim Parker, Dick Szymanski—were good veterans.
So, coming into the 1964 season, all I was very much worried about was defense. We put in a defense that was, essentially, a combination of the Baltimore and Detroit defenses. We used fewer blitzes than I had used at Detroit because the Detroit secondary had had more experience at playing single coverage, which is a must if you blitz. In Baltimore we decided to mix spot blitzing with regular coverage. I was lucky in having Bill Pellington at middle linebacker; he had played in the league for 11 years and was a great leader, with a tremendous understanding of the game. I think he has been one of the most underrated linebackers in the league. But after we had finished analyzing the defensive potential of the Colts at the beginning of this year, we were forced to recognize the fact that this was not a championship defense. When you analyze most championship teams, you have to conclude that defenses win championships and we needed some shoring up.
Maybe one of the keys to our successful 1964 season was having Bill Arnsparger to work under Winner and coach the defensive line. That happened when Gino said he wanted to retire. I had to hire someone to replace him, and I got Bill from Tulane; he had been an assistant with me at Kentucky. He rounded out what I consider an excellent staff of assistants: Winner, Don McCafferty, John Sandusky and Dick Bielski. Then, as the exhibition season went along, it became pretty clear that we could not survive without the leadership and the pass rush that Gino once gave us from defensive end, and finally Carroll persuaded him to come back as a player for one more year. He came back just before our third exhibition against the Cardinals in St. Louis, and he played a good deal of the game with his tongue hanging out to his knee pads—and he still played better that day than any other defensive end.
For the first three games of the exhibition season I experimented. I made Alex Hawkins captain of the special teams—the teams for punting, kicking off and punt and kickoff returns—and we began to grade them as carefully as we grade our offensive and defensive units. Usually you try to get big men at the point of the wedge on a kickoff-return team to clear the way for the runner, but I decided to go with my best blockers and we wound up with three little guys. But they were three little guys who could block—Hawkins, Jerry Logan and Wendell Harris. One kickoff return I remember Harris knocked down three tacklers. Hitting is contagious, you know. When the little guys blocked, so did everyone else.
I knew we would be able to move the ball in 1964 but I didn't know much about our rookie backs, since Tony Lorick was at the All-Star camp and I did not get a good look at him. I did know Jerry Hill and Tom Matte had matured during the 1963 season, when our offense had raised its rushing average gain from 3.6 to 4.1 yards per play. So we would have more running than any Colt team of recent years. But work still had to be done on the defense.
When the exhibition season ended I called another team meeting and explained to the club what I hoped we could do. We had been knocked out of the race in 1963 before it started. In 1964 I wanted to get off to a fast start. We had worked hard to get in shape and we felt that we were ready.
The offense was all set. Lenny Moore, who had played out on the Hank when he was not injured in 1963, had moved back into a running spot. We had had some doubts about Lenny. There were times when we thought he might prefer to be traded, but I talked to him and he said that he would like to return and play where he was most needed. To get a starting assignment, Lenny knew he would have to run better than Tom Matte, who had taken over the year before and had a fine year.
Jerry Hill was established as our fullback. Although Tony Lorick had looked good against Pittsburgh in the exhibition game he was still a rookie and I thought he needed more experience. Behind them we had Joe Don Looney, who we did not know too much about since we had only recently acquired him from the Giants. We only knew he was big and strong and fast and liked to play. We never had any troubles with Joe Don then. When he came to us from the Giants we treated him like any other player—no special attention, no heart-to-heart talks—and he came to practice on time and worked hard. I put him on the special teams, where he would be exposed to their gung-ho attitude, and he was the first guy downfield on kickoffs most of the time. He did not always get the tackle, but he used up a couple of blockers when he didn't so that the ballcarrier was undressed and someone else got the tackle.
When I took over as head coach for the Colts I found out that most defensive lines disregarded the Colt running game and went after Unitas. They could not do that in the second half of the 1963 season, and in the 1964 preseason games I made sure that they understood they could not do it in 1964 either. With strong running, Johnny was getting more time to throw. In the week before the opening game against the Vikings, my feeling was even stronger that the Colt offense was good enough to win a championship.