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