Jerry Wolman, the Washington builder who bought the Eagles last year, has put pep as well as money into the game. He is a fire-breathing superfan (page 102). In Philadelphia's first exhibition he threw punches at hecklers in a rough skirmish in the stands. Fortunately his enthusiasm has not overcome his good sense, and he leaves football matters to his general manager and coach, Joe Kuharich. There were those who doubted the wisdom of Kuharich's frantic trading last year when, on taking over the team, he shipped half the lineup away. But what he got in return, added to the nucleus he kept, turned a bad club into a pretty good one. After finishing last in 1963 with a 2-10-2 record, the Eagles tied for third (6-8) last year. Now the swapping has slowed down. The single major deal Kuharich made this summer could have fortified the offensive line for years to come. Needing a tackle, he sent Guard Pete Case to the Giants for Tackle Lane Howell. Kuharich felt Case was expendable because he had drafted and signed Ray Rissmiller, the Georgia guard who turned out to be the fastest, strongest lineman in the College All-Star camp and looked like a better pulling guard than Case. Then, alas, Rissmiller injured his knee in the camp and was lost for the season. Though Howell appears to have filled the hole at tackle, the Eagles are now short at guard. Otherwise, Philadelphia has a strong line, blending experience ( Center Jim Ringo), agility (Guard Ed Blaine) and strength (276-pound Bob Brown, the best young tackle in the East).
While Kuharich's early trades were generally sound he got the worst of it in the exchange of Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen for Washington's Norman Snead. Snead ended up 11th in the NFL standings last year while Jurgensen revitalized the Washington attack. Snead could lose out as No. 1 quarterback of the Eagles this year to King Hill, a more consistent passer. There is even an outside chance that the Eagles' No. 1 will be scrambling young Jack Concannon, a second-year man. Kuharich isn't crazy about scramblers—he has the pro's inbred mistrust of them—but if both Snead and Hill fail to move the team he will see what Concannon can do. In his one start last year Concannon completed 10 of 20 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 99 yards in eight carries as the Eagles defeated the Cowboys 24-14.
Except for Tight End Pete Retzlaff the Eagle primary receivers are ordinary. There is some compensation for that mediocrity in the fact that the running backs happen to be good receivers. Mostly, however, they will be running, and well. Fullback Earl Gros gained 748 yards in 1964, averaging 4.9 yards a carry, which puts him in the league's elite class. Tom Woodeschick was not used as much but was just as effective when given the chance. Halfback Timmy Brown can be a dazzling broken-field runner when his brittle legs are not hurting him. If old Ollie Matson can deliver as he did last season for Kuharich (who was his coach at San Francisco), the running game will be so much the better.
Defensively, the Eagles have a long way to go to be right. The line does not put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Only Tackle Floyd Peters, an underrated player, makes a consistently strong rush. Tackle John Meyers is strong enough at 276 pounds but has yet to show the kind of charge Kuharich thought he had when he picked him up from Dallas. The weakness of the Eagles' pass-rush overburdens the secondary. With plenty of time to study the scene, enemy passers often hit secondary and even tertiary receivers. For that reason Claude Crabb, Irv Cross and Nate Ramsey look worse than they actually are. Safety Glenn Glass, however, lets far too many receivers get behind him. Rookie Al Nelson, a star of the All-Star Game, could be a valuable addition to the defensive backfield. There are fewer worries over linebacking; Dave Lloyd, Maxie Baughan and Mike Morgan are hard-hitting regulars with the experience to diagnose enemy tactics.
Sam Baker, a kicker for 10 years, handles both the punting and place-kicking. He is a below-average punter (10th in the standings last year, with a 42.3-yard average), an average place-kicker. Superior kicking specialists are hard to come by. Baker will be back at the old tee.
Without stronger quarterbacking Philadelphia will have a so-so year. Fourth place is about as high as the team can go.