The most interesting puzzle in the AFL this year is how Cookie Gilchrist and Abner Haynes will perform now that they have been traded away from places where they professed to be unhappy and have joined the same backfield. There is no doubt that they are two of the finest athletes in the game, and they could make a sudden and dramatic improvement in the Denver Broncos. The question is how much they really want to. Gilchrist arrived in camp late after claiming that he wished to be traded to Oakland, but he explained that he was only pulling one of his regular publicity stunts. Haynes, though, reported early and insisted that he is a new man. "Between us, Cookie and me, we'll gain 2,000 yards this year," says Haynes, who was the AFL's Player of the Year for 1960 in Dallas but was displeased at being moved to Kansas City in 1963. At Denver Haynes will have to beat out Running Back Charlie Mitchell, a good one with flashing speed. Denver Coach Mac Speedie has high hopes for his receivers—Flanker Al Denson, Tight End Hewritt Dixon and Split End Lionel Taylor, the last having caught more passes than any other player in AFL history.
But there is still a serious problem at quarterback. Jacky Lee, in the second and final year of his lend-lease deal from Houston, should be better after a season of working with the Denver receivers. But John McCormick and Mickey Slaughter have been playing ahead of Lee. In any case, to protect those three, the offensive line needs strengthening. Rookie Tackle Bob Breitenstein will help. Eldon Danenhauer is a good veteran at the other tackle. Much depends on whether Ray Kubala can make it at center and allow Speedie to shift Jerry Sturm to guard. However, the presence of Gilchrist as a pass blocker will make work considerably easier for all the offensive linemen.
The defensive line became a steady and effective unit over the last half of last season and is back intact. Speedie is hoping for a top performance by Tackle Ray Jacobs, a 280-pounder who was released by Houston primarily because of his meager enthusiasm. Injuries prevented a sound assessment of Denver's linebacking last year. It now appears to be mediocre on merit. There are also weaknesses in the defensive backfield, although not at the corner occupied by Willie Brown, an All-AFL selection in 1964.
Overall, the Broncos figure to be a better team than they have ever been, and not the least of the reasons is a change in feeling. The Broncos bumbled along for years as losers with an organization that would not spend the money necessary to sign new talent, and the result was a team that split into cliques with a whipped-dog outlook. Then the Phipps brothers stepped forward to save the franchise for Denver, the club sold more than 23,000 season tickets and Speedie, famous in his Cleveland playing days as a target for Otto Graham's passes, became head coach. Speedie is genuinely admired by his players and gets a great deal out of them. Gilchrist and Haynes have played for winning teams and know how to think positively. "Anybody around here who talks about losing is messing with my money," says Haynes. The Broncos will be last again, but not so dismally.