"We didn't work out any longer in practice," he said. "But we didn't stand around at all. And those grass drills! They kill you."
The grass drills Austin brought with him from Green Bay. They are a fiendish form of calisthenics designed to increase agility, and they leave strong men gasping for breath. They are used to start practice.
With exercise came a more intense concentration on the game. When the Steelers blew too many assignments in their early preseason games, Austin laid on a weekly test.
"They are questioned on their assignments on every play," he said. "I can excuse a player who is beaten physically—sometimes the guy playing head on you has so much more physical equipment you can't do anything about it. But you should never be beaten because you don't know what you are supposed to do." The Steelers were fined for every answer they missed on the tests, and the last couple of tests have resulted in almost perfect scores by all the players.
Austin had studied and restudied movies of the Steeler games of 1965 and when he came to town he knew exactly what he wanted to do. "I began to develop some enthusiasm watching the films," he said. "We had a real good defensive unit. Bill Nelsen, the quarterback, had a good strong arm and he was accurate, but he had not been taught to read defenses. Blanton Collier, the Cleveland coach, gave me some good advice about him. 'He's got the big thing,' Blanton said. 'The one thing you need, the arm. You can teach him the rest.' "
But the offensive line worried Austin, who had grown used to the quick, precise blocking of Green Bay's line. "They looked big and slow, and I needed a center and better guards," Austin said. "The tackles had to take some weight off. Everybody was poor on fundamentals, blocking techniques, passing techniques. So we worked on fundamentals for the biggest part of the preseason. If your techniques are fundamentally correct, you can win sometimes with less talent than the other team has."
By the time the season began, Austin had adjusted the Steeler offense well enough so that it scored 34 points on New York in the opening game, Receiver Gary Ballman making an especially big hit. However, the Steeler defense allowed just as many points, and the club had to settle for a 34-34 tie.
"They aren't used to pressure," Austin said. The next week the Steelers reacted a bit better as they scored 17 points on the tough Detroit defense. Unfortunately for Austin, Nelsen, who had looked very good at quarterback and who had not had to read defenses because Don Heinrich, the offensive back-field coach, sent in his plays, was injured and lost for the season. Ron Smith, a tall, gawky youngster who looks and throws much like a young Frank Ryan, came in against Detroit and performed well, throwing two touchdown passes.
"He has faults," Heinrich said before the Redskin game. "He sets up too slow and so he'll be vulnerable to a rush. But he'll develop."
Unfortunately, Smith did not develop fast enough to beat Washington, although the Steelers led in the third period 21-9. Relentless defensive work by the Redskins during the second half caused fumbles and interceptions that finally cost the Steelers the game.