Austin's main problem on offense is his line, which was poor in 1966. To strengthen it, he is counting on trades and rookies. Better is the Steelers' defensive front four of John Baker, Lloyd Voss, Chuck Hinton and Ken Kortas. In its second year as a unit it is quick and should mount a better pass rush than it did in 1966.
Rookie Ray May has put pressure on Bill Saul at linebacker, and Austin considers that the club is better in this department, too. The Steeler linebackers as a unit are not too fast, but they have been effective.
If the front four does put more pressure on the passer, the very good Steeler secondary should come into its own. Clendon Thomas and Jim Bradshaw are excellent safeties, and at the corner spots Brady Keys and Marv Woodson have speed. All of the players in the secondary are experienced, an advantage for any team.
The kicking, with Mike Clark, is excellent. Clark hit on 21 of 32 field-goal attempts last year and had the best percentage in the league from beyond 40 yards, with six of nine.
Lou Groza of Cleveland, who holds all sorts of alltime records, hit only three of seven from that far out last year. Entering his 21st season as a pro, he is still better than anybody else the Browns have been able to come up with. This may be an indication of the team's bad luck, which has been rather spectacular so far in 1967. The repercussions from the five-player holdout—Leroy Kelly, John Wooten, John Brown, Mike Howell and Sid Williams were the men—could be damaging. Owner Art Modell sent Williams and Brown away in trades. Kelly, who was second to Gale Sayers in rushing in 1966 when he replaced Jim Brown, is playing out his option. Howell, a fine defensive back, missed much of the valuable training camp time holding out, then had to report to the National Guard for training. Thus, during most of the preseason schedule, the Browns had to use three rookies and Erich Barnes in the secondary defense, instead of being able to let the veterans repolish their timing and coordination.
Another blow to the Browns was the knee injury to massive Milt Morin, the second-year tight end who was expected to take over some of the pass-catching duties from Paul Warfield and Gary Collins and to provide strong blocking for the sweeps by Kelly and Ernie Green. He is expected to be out until midseason. His replacement last year was Ralph Smith, who is a good deal smaller than Morin and does not offer as inviting a target.
Ryan, who played quarterback most of last year in pain from a damaged elbow, has recovered well from an off-season operation and appears to be throwing short and long better than ever. He is also releasing the ball more quickly than in the past.
"Frank always set up fast," explains Coach Blanton Collier. "His problem was more mental than physical. He was not prepared to throw immediately. He has changed that and he gets the ball away faster."
Ryan is by a good margin the best quarterback in the division, but his backup man, Dick Shiner, is no replacement for the departed Ninowski. Shiner has been in the NFL for four years, but has played very little. Should Ryan be injured, the team offense would lose much of its impact.
Cleveland's running should be as good this year as it was last, when it was very good indeed. Surprisingly, although many observers think of Cleveland as an old team, it is not. The turnover since 1964, when the Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts for the championship, has been extraordinary. At most, only 19 of the players who performed during 1964 remain with Cleveland now. There may be fewer still by midseason.