If Hart settles down or Johnson can get loose long enough to play, they will not lack for good targets. The most dangerous tight end in the league last year was Jackie Smith, who stands 6'4", weighs 233 and has speed. The Big Train caught 56 passes for 1,205 yards in 1967, second high in the NFL. Bobby Joe Conrad is back as one of the wide receivers, along with a rookie from Miami named Jerry Daanen and Dave Williams, who had flashes of real brilliance last year.
The offensive line is regarded as one of the very best. Here is one place where Winner has made no changes and needs none. Big Tackles Bob Reynolds and Ernie McMillan provide bulwarks against the charge of the defensive ends, and Winner has an assortment of guards, headed by Irv Goode on the left side of the line and Rick Sortun on the right. Veteran Guard Ken Gray, who had a knee operation in June, may be ready early in the season. Bob DeMarco is a perennial All-NFL at center.
Johnny Roland, one of the most exciting young runners in the division, has recovered completely from knee surgery, which put him on the bench at the end of the 1967 season. Before he was hurt he had run for 876 yards, fourth in the league, carrying the ball a whopping 234 times. He may get quality help from the first draft choice of the Cardinals, MacArthur Lane of Utah State. Lane, a 6-foot, 220-pounder, showed well with the All-Stars against Green Bay, running with good balance and power, and, if he can move into the Cardinal starting backfield beside Roland, the club will have a strong all-round ground threat. Prentice Gautt retired after the 1967 season, but Willis Crenshaw is back, along with Roy Shivers and Cid Edwards, a rookie out of the taxi squad, to give the Cardinals relief in the back-field. The kicking is excellent, both for field goals and kickoffs ( Jim Bakken) and for punts (Chuck Latourette).
The racial problems which beset the Cardinals seem to have been solved by trades, conciliation and the creation of a players' committee of six to handle any disputes between the coaches and the squad. Chuck Drulis, who was the target of criticism by some of the St. Louis black players, is still on hand; he has gone to great pains to assure the Negro group that he was never consciously a racist, and his word in the matter has been accepted.
The team morale in training camp seemed good, and there were no untoward incidents. Unfortunately, with the best will and the finest morale in football, the Cardinals would still have trouble overcoming the handicaps of a flood of new people on defense and a still un-proven quarterback on offense.
Anyone looking for a good long shot in the NFL should consider the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every football dynasty creates its spin-offs in assistant coaches promoted to the top job; the first spin-off from the Green Bay dynasty was Line Coach Bill Austin, who took over the Steelers two years ago and has labored mightily since. He was handicapped at first because the Steelers had spent draft choices profligately for aging veterans. Now he is beginning to reap the rewards of a sound scouting system.
For the Steelers, as for every pro club, the key to success lies in the quarterback. Austin is going with Kent Nix, a 23-year-old youngster from TCU who is in his second season. Nix sets up as quickly as any thrower in the business, and his release is lightning fast. Bill Nelsen, who started last season as the Pitt QB, threw 165 passes, was caught for a loss 22 times. Behind the same offensive line, Nix threw 268 times, was caught only eight times. In his last three games, against the formidable rush of Detroit and Green Bay and the marshmallows of Washington, he was not caught at all. He had a good rookie year, and Austin is betting on him for the future. He could be one of the great quarterbacks of the next decade. Backing him up is nothing; if Nix gets hurt, scratch the Steelers.
He will play behind an offensive line that is maturing into one of the strongest in the East. Ralph Wenzel, Bruce Van Dyke and Larry Gagner are all 24 and in their third year with the pros. Sam Davis, 23, was a rookie last year. The first draft choice of the Steelers was another offensive lineman—USC's Mike Taylor. He could bolster a good set of offensive tackles led by Fran O'Brien and Mike Haggerty. Ray Mansfield and Bob Whitlow are both capable centers.
Running behind this promising line are some equally promising backs. Veteran Earl Gros, whose career has been marred by injuries, has shown speed and the ability to bowl over tacklers when he is well. Bill Asbury, a 230-pounder in his third pro campaign, is only half a step behind him. A 210-pound sprinter from San Diego State with the unlikely name for a runner of Don Shy can provide the outside speed the Steelers need. Shy is in his second season and, if he can learn to control his balance as he uses his speed, he could lead the Steelers in ground gaining.