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September 18, 1967
The shuffling over, revived Los Angeles is eying a bright new era. But it has two problems it won't solve easily: San Francisco and Baltimore
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September 18, 1967

Rams' Year In Coastal

The shuffling over, revived Los Angeles is eying a bright new era. But it has two problems it won't solve easily: San Francisco and Baltimore

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The Colt rookie crop, headed by Smith, is a good one; even Raymond Berry, the perennial All-Pro receiver, may feel the pressure from a youngster named Ray Perkins, who is fast enough to be a deep threat. Up from Alabama, Perkins can catch the ball in traffic and runs crisp patterns, but the odds are that he will be used only from time to time to rest Berry whenever Berry begins to feel like the old veteran that he is.

By the end of the 1966 season Norb Hecker, the young coach of the Atlanta Falcons, had done a remarkable job of welding the disparate elements he had drafted from NFL clubs and the colleges into a reasonably cohesive machine. The Falcons, for an expansion team, were very good. In winning three games and upsetting the contending St. Louis Cardinals late in the year, they gave promise of better days.

Unluckily for Hecker and the Falcons, Atlanta was included in the Coastal Division in the realignment of the league. The move is not likely to make his nights during this season very restful.

Although Hecker has made no really significant additions to his roster, the Falcons, familiar now with his offensive and defensive systems, will be at least 20% stronger than they were a year ago. Probably the strongest segment of the Falcon lineup is the offensive line, where Frank Marchlewski is a potential All-Pro at center and Dan Grimm, acquired from the Green Bay Packers, ranks as a top guard. In Billy Martin, the tight end, Hecker has a very good blocker.

Surprisingly, the strong point of the Falcon attack in 1966 was the running game, powered by ex-Packer Junior Coffey and ex-Giant Ernie Wheelwright. Coffey and Wheelwright, whose position is threatened on and off by Perry Lee Dunn, are back again, and Tom Moore, obtained by trade from the Los Angeles Rams, will lend experienced depth when he gets over an injury. Rookies Tom Bryan and Jim Jordan offer Hecker reasonably good untested talent, and Preston Ridlehuber, who matured toward the end of the 1966 season, seems stronger in his second year.

Randy Johnson, the rookie quarterback from Texas A&I, played remarkably well in his first year. Possessed of a strong and accurate arm and a good tactical sense, he should be much more effective this season, with a year of rugged experience behind him. Steve Sloan, from Alabama, looked good during the training season and will be the backup man for Johnson if a bad shoulder holds up.

The weakness of the Falcons, understandably, is in pass defense. Since it takes a minimum of three years to develop a coordinated defensive unit, Hecker is still building his. He has a solid foundation in Tommy Nobis, the middle linebacker from Texas, who was the Falcons' first draft choice and a superb performer in his rookie season. Nobis is probably on his way to All-Pro honors in the next few years and he has stronghelp from Linebackers Ralph Heck and Marion Rushing. If the Falcons lack depth in linebacking, at least their first three rate with the others in the division.

The defensive line was vulnerable to power sweeps in 1966 because of a lack of really strong ends, and it was not consistent in rushing the passer, which placed an insupportable burden on the young and uncoordinated Falcon secondary. Jim Norton, a good end acquired from San Francisco, should help solve this problem. The Falcons' first draft choice, Leo Carroll from San Diego State, was being counted on heavily, but he is out for the year with knee trouble. The secondary, which leaked grievously last year, should leak again, although not quite so badly. Nick Rassas, who started strongly before injury stopped him in 1966, is well and adds strength where before there was mostly weakness. But the unit as a whole still lacks the confidence that comes with time.

The Falcons, too, do not have an adequate place-kicker, which shuts off the automatic three points available to most teams once they penetrate their opponents' 30-yard line. This lack also hurts on kickoffs by allowing the opposition a runback on every play. With a defense as vulnerable as the Falcons', long kickoff returns are fatal, setting up the other team in good field position and increasing the burden on the Falcon secondary.

The Falcons, then, will be better—but not nearly good enough to finish anywhere but last in this division.

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