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But unity or no, the Oilers remain stuck with a problem that has haunted them for years—do they have a quarterback? Jacky Lee of Cincinnati and Don Trull of Baylor came along as the heirs to Blanda's job, but neither was able to take it until the final half of last season when Trull became the regular. Trull was oddly ineffective in the early exhibitions this year. Against the Chiefs he could not seem to bring himself to throw the ball and was dropped for several losses. Against the Raiders he couldn't hit his receivers. "I'm not worried. I'll work it out," Trull says.
Lemm played his rookies extensively during exhibition games. "We want to win," he said, "but these rookies must get experience." The blocking of the offensive line began to look brighter at once. Running Back Sid Blanks, who rushed for 756 yards as a rookie but was ineffective the last two seasons because of injuries, looks as if he has found himself again. He is being pushed by rookie Woodie Campbell from Northwestern. Fullback Hoyle Granger is a tough, bullish runner who is still learning his position. Little Ode Burrell, Houston's best running back for two years, has been moved to flanker to take advantage of his speed and hands. Lemm believes he will be outstanding when he is removed from the heavy pounding a running back must take. Charley Frazier, split end, is regarded by Lemm as one of the best receivers in pro football. Lawrence Elkins, who was supposed to be that good, is playing behind Burrell.
Garland Boyette, Ladd's uncle and a former Pan-American Games decathlon performer, has moved in at middle linebacker. Webster has looked as if he will be everything the Oilers hope for. The defensive line suffered when End Gary Cutsinger went out for the season with a pinched nerve in his back. Lemm transferred Pat Holmes, 6'5" and 270 pounds, from right tackle to Cutsinger's left defensive end position and has been working rookie Willie Jones and 270-pound sophomore George Allen at ends also. Ladd, who has trimmed down to 290 and claims the Oilers' new attitude is contagious, is the left tackle.
This is the fastest Oiler team ever. "All these cats need," says Webster, "is to get the taste of winning." Two of their last four games are with Oakland and San Diego and will have an important bearing on the Western Division championship. The other two are with Miami, the team Houston must beat to stay off the bottom of the Eastern Division.
The Dolphins, according to their coach, George Wilson, are "100% improved over last season." The reasons, says Wilson, are a better relationship between coaches and players, much better running, better quarterbacking, better line-backing and the presence of excellent receivers. Joe Auer was the only steady running back a year ago. Now Sam Price at fullback and Abner Haynes, alternating with Auer, have added explosiveness. Haynes has been running like the old Abner, a former AFL Player of the Year. Wilson traded his son, George Jr., and has settled on John Stofa at quarterback. Stofa played only one game last year after roaming around minor league football for three seasons, but in that one he threw four touchdown passes against Houston. He is poised, intelligent and a good deep passer. Rookie Bob Griese and Rick Norton back him up. Norton, the $300,000 bonus boy who last year had a leg injury, stomach troubles and two broken jaws, was given another chance, while Jon Brittenum was traded.
The Dolphins have added John Bramlett and Jerry Hopkins, linebackers from Denver, to a crew that includes young Frank Emanuel, a future star. The receivers are Howard Twilley, a sensation in camp, Frank Jackson, Karl Noonan, Doug Moreau, Dave Kocourek and rookie Jack Clancy. Billy Neighbors is back at one guard, but a rookie free agent, Freddie Woodson of Florida A&M, will be forced to occupy the other guard. The Dolphins have moved light Maxie Williams to tackle to replace Alphonse Dotson. He will team with a good young lineman, Norman Evans, but Miami is very short on replacements.
Defensively the Dolphins are improved. End Mel Branch had one of his best exhibition seasons. Ed Cooke is at the other end and Ray Jacobs is the soundest of the tackles. There is concern over the secondary. Free Safety Willie West, out until November with a shoulder separation, will be replaced by Ross O'Hanley, who was All-AFL in 1960 but lacks speed. Second-year man Bob Neff is the strong safety if he can beat out rookie Tom Beier. The corner backs, Jim Warren and Dick Westmoreland, who came from San Diego in the player pool, are first rate. "We have a long way to go at some positions, but there's no comparison between our outlook now and a year ago," says Wilson. "At least we know what we're doing and who we're doing it with. Last year we were just feeling our way."
The four lesser clubs in the Eastern Division are drawing closer together in ability and should be very close in won-lost records. But they will be far behind the Buffalo Bills.
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