The rest of the offensive line is about the same—the best. Jerry Kramer, whole and hearty after a series of mishaps, remains one of the two or three finest guards in football, and Ken Bowman is a blooded, strong center who returns after a year missed because of injury. Forrest Gregg and Bob Skoronski still rank at the top as offensive tackles, and if these names are not sufficient, then Lombardi can drop more, such as Steve Wright's—he has been a backup man for three years at tackle—and Bob Hyland's—he was a lineman on the college All-Star team that lost to Green Bay in August.
The situation on defense is little less promising. In 1966 Green Bay held its opponents to fewer points than any other team in the NFL. Some have hinted that advancing years have slowed the men responsible for that showing, but Lombardi thinks not.
"My team has been called old by some people," he says. "But as long as the players win, they are not old. Our strongest point is experience, and I don't just mean years in the league but the experience of the type of games these people have been through. Championship game experience. Anyone who did not value that type of experience would be a fool."
Willie Davis, an All-Pro end, and Henry Jordan, an All-Pro defensive tackle, embody that experience in the Packer defensive line. Ron Kostelnik, coming into his seventh year, is a young—by Packer standards—addition to the front four. Behind this formidable array stand Jim Weatherwax, a 6'7", 260-pound second-year man, and a high draft choice, 6'5", 265-pound Dick Arndt. Only Lionel Aldridge, a fine end who was injured in preseason play, will be missing early on. Al-dridge probably will be replaced by Bob Brown, a broth of a young man who stands 6'5", weighs 260 and is immensely strong. Someone recently asked him how strong he was and he said, "I don't know. I'm not much for weight lifting. Give me a quarterback or a fullback instead." The Packers will not be devastated by Aldridge's loss.
The three top Green Bay linebackers are probably the best in football. Ray Nitschke, Lee Roy Caffey and Dave Robinson combine size and speed ideally. Robinson, in fact, is considered by some opposing coaches as the best one-on-one linebacker in the business. And Green Bay has an exemplary player sitting on the bench waiting for a chance in Tommy Crutcher.
The secondary is the same as it was in 1966—in players and excellence. Herb Adderley has underlined his claim to being the best corner back in football, and Bob Jeter, who is Green Bay's other corner, has almost the same credentials. Willie Wood is an All-Pro safety man, and Tom Brown improved from game to game last year. Competent replacements include Doug Hart and Dave Hathcock.
It is hard to fault the Packers anywhere. Helping them, too, will be the weakness of the Central Division. Detroit and Minnesota have new coaches and Minnesota has a new quarterback, as well. The Chicago Bears are in the throes of a massive rebuilding project, and at the moment appear to have no competent quarterback at all. If winning in the Central will be a walkover for the Packers, taking second place will be a scramble for the others. Minnesota could just luck out, although Detroit, with greater strengths, should be favored.
Fran Tarkenton has taken his exciting, if not always winning, style of play to New York, and his replacement will come from Ron VanderKelen, Bob Berry or John Hankinson, a trio distinguished by the fact that among them they have started a total of three NFL games. At that, they show more experience than the Vikings' coaches. Head Coach Bud Grant, Offensive Backfield Coach Bus Mertes and Defensive Coach Bob Hollway have never coached an NFL team, and Jimmy Carr, the defensive backfield coach, has had only a year's indoctrination. Grant, whose last contact with NFL play came in 1952 when he played end for Philadelphia before leaving for the Canadian Football League, summed up his club's principal problems succinctly.
"The biggest question marks about the Vikings in 1967 are the quarterback and me," he said.
The questions will not be answered until the season is well under way, but it is unlikely that they will both be answered in the affirmative. Grant contends there is no great difference between Canadian and NFL football, but he must still familiarize himself with teams totally strange to him.