The Baltimore Colts have the big gun and behind the big gun they have the biggest little gun in the league. The big gun, of course, is the incomparable John Unitas, who has been the best quarterback in football for a long lime. Gary Cuozzo, Baltimore's No. 2 quarterback, has been potentially the best for three years now.
To go with Johnny U., as he is known around the league, and with Cuozzo, the Colts have more than capable running backs and several old but young-minded receivers, such as Raymond Berry and Jimmy Orr. The offensive line is well seasoned. It seems to have retained enough of its youth to give Johnny U. and Gary C. adequate pass-blocking, and both of them unload very fast.
Obviously, the Colts have few problems on offense. With Jerry Hill, Tony Lorick, Tom Matte and willowy Lenny Moore, they have running backs equal to any. Berry is still capable of fooling any defensive back, and Orr has speed and good hands. John Mackey is a tough tight end who can block and catch passes, and the blockers can impede the progress of most pass rushers. If football were all offense, the Colts would be even to repeat as champions of the West.
But sometime during the course of a game the other team will get the ball, and the Colts must fill two large holes left in their defense by the professional equivalent of graduation. Bill Pellington, a Colt linebacker for 12 years, has retired; he was immensely valuable both for his comprehensive understanding of the offenses in the league and for his dedication to decapitating ballcarriers. His spirit had permeated the Colt defense. But a more grievous loss was Gino Marchetti, the massive, quick, strong, agile and intelligent defensive end. That lineup of adjectives may seem excessive, but it is not; Marchetti is regarded by all coaches in pro football as the best defensive end who ever played the game. He is being replaced by Lou Michaels, a good defensive end but no Marchetti. In place of Pellington is Dennis Gaubatz, a rugged, young middle linebacker who can range farther than Pellington could but who sometimes, because of inexperience, ranges in the wrong direction, which Pellington never did.
The Colts can put on a respectable pass-rush, even without Marchetti, but Ordell Braase, the defensive end on the other side of the line, probably will not throw the passer as often as he did last season, when quarterbacks instinctively retreated away from Marchetti and into Braase's arms. With Michaels in Marchetti's place, they probably will drop straight back.
With Fred Miller, Guy Reese, Billy Ray Smith and John Diehl, the Colts are well supplied with defensive tackles. Smith and Miller are top quality; the other two are adequate. Gaubatz is flanked by Steve Stone-breaker, a corner linebacker on his way to a top rating, and by Don Shinnick, who has been around a long time and is a fiery, alert corner man. The Colts have depth in line-backing, something few clubs can boast, with second-year-man Ted Davis available to play behind Gaubatz in the middle and third-year-man John Campbell capable of replacing either Shinnick or Stonebreaker.
Baltimore is almost set, but a few rookies might break in, notably Fullback Mike Curtis, a 225-pounder from Duke, Offensive Guard Glen Ressler or a 265-pound defensive end, Roosevelt Davis. Whether they make it or not has little to do with the Colt chances this year; championships are won by veterans.
Punting has been a perennial problem. The Colts tried a young man named Ron Perez, who played baseball for the Orioles for a while. He was impressive in pregame warmups but something less under the pressure of charging linemen, and was cut. Now Billy Lothridge is doing the punting.
Alex Hawkins remains the captain of the Colt special teams—the suicide squads who kick off, return kickoffs, etc. He and Head Coach Don Shula have made a religion of special teams, and the Colts have the best in football. They should finish second or third, depending on how well they have filled the gaps in the defense.