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YEAR OF LARCENY IN THE PROS
Tex Maule
November 21, 1966
A startling number of pro football games have been decided by pass interceptions this season, a fact that is focusing attention on wilier defenses—and a bright new star in Cleveland
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November 21, 1966

Year Of Larceny In The Pros

A startling number of pro football games have been decided by pass interceptions this season, a fact that is focusing attention on wilier defenses—and a bright new star in Cleveland

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In the next few years Fichtner played both safeties and corner back and did reasonably well at every position. He became the regular free safety when the defection of Bernie Parrish to the AFL and an injury to Walter Beach made it necessary to move him there. The loss of Parrish and Beach forced the Browns to admit a rookie into the secondary. The best available, Ernie Kellerman, had operated most of the time at strong safety, so that is where he was placed.

"I feel that free safety is best suited to Ross's talents," Brinker says. "In that spot you are more of a helper instead of having a lot of direct responsibility. Ross gets a good jump on the ball, and he's an opportunist."

Free safety is just about what the name implies—a safety with no specific man to cover in most pass defenses. He is available to help out wherever needed. He may have a zone to cover in some defenses, but much of the time he can roam.

In man-to-man coverage the strong safety—usually the left safety, since most teams are right-handed and line up with their tight end and flanker back on the right side of the offense—must cover the tight end. If, however, he drops back into the corner to protect a deep zone against a pass, then the coverage is at least partially zone. A zone defense is very difficult to throw bombs into; when Cleveland scored quickly with a long pass on Green Bay in last year's championship game, the Packers changed from their normal man-to-man coverage and spent most of the rest of the game in a zone.

Many of the Cleveland defenses are a combination of zone and man-to-man, reflecting the growing complexity of pass defense.

"When I took over the defense in 1954 there was more single coverage," Brinker says. "The free safety idea wasn't as popular then, although this had been a basic part, of Steve Owen's original umbrella defense in New York. Since then, everyone has changed gradually.

"Then, too, defense depends on personnel. A good example of that is what we call our 'Five' defense. The corner backs take the outside people alone—the spread end and the flanker. We have combination man-to-man and zone on the running backs. The free safety is left as a roamer, and many of our interceptions have come off this, including the three Fichtner had against Dallas. In previous years we hesitated to call it, because the corner back's assignments are so difficult it is hard to find a player who can execute them. In Erich Barnes and Mike Howell we feel we have that kind of personnel."

In order to use any of these defenses well, the defensive team must conceal its intentions as long as possible, since such veteran quarterbacks as Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Frank Ryan and John Brodie can immediately spot the weakness in a specific defense and take advantage of it. In the never-ending ebb and flow of offense against defense, no defensive edge stands up for long.

"You camouflage," Fichtner says. "You invite the quarterback to attack where you know you're going to have help."

Hecker equates this ability to camouflage with experience.

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