"This is the best quarterback situation since I've been here," says Karras. "I feel like I was traded."
At the start of the training season the Lions hoped that Nick Eddy had recovered completely from knee surgery. Eddy had shown speed and power before the injury had put him on the sidelines last year. A physically fit Eddy, combined with Farr, might have given the Lions a running attack to equal Green Bay's, but, midway through August, the knee required a second operation. Eddy's future is now uncertain, and so is the Lions' second running spot. Bobby Felts, ex-49er Dave Kopay and Bill Triplett, obtained from the Giants in a recent trade, probably will fight for the job, with Tom Nowatzke around for spot duty.
Powerful running would augment the threat of the Lion passing attack, but the loss of Pat Studstill could damage a receiving corps which does not appear impressive. Gail Cogdill, in his ninth year, has lost a step or two but is still competent on shorter patterns. Phil Odle, a rookie from Brigham Young, has shown potential, but he is not very large. The big hope, of course, is McCullouch, who replaces Studstill. If he is as good as he looked against the Pack in the All-Star Game, the Lions will have a passing attack to match their running. McCullouch appears to have ability to distort a defense, forcing the opposing team to devote extra coverage to him. If this is true, all of the Lion receivers will benefit and, with Munson to pick the targets, the Lions could move up dramatically from the dismal 13th place they occupied in passing offense in 1967. The Detroit offensive line, rebuilt and improved last year, has the advantage of a year together and should protect Munson well and open holes for the backs.
Three of the line starters were new last year: Right Tackle Charley Bradshaw, obtained from New Orleans, Left Tackle Roger Shoals and Guard Chuck Walton, an import from Canada. All of them have returned, as has Center Ed Flanagan, a four-year man. Veteran Guard and Negotiator John Gordy, who hurt his knee and required an operation, probably will miss half the season. Bill Cottrell, Frank Gallagher and Bob Kowalkowski give the club good depth.
Ron Kramer retired at tight end, costing the club one of football's best blockers. But Jim Gibbons is another strong blocker and good receiver, and the Lions' third draft choice was Charlie Sanders, a husky youngster who figures to take over the tight end position soon.
The defense was above average in 1967. Karras is the only man left from the original foursome of Roger Brown, Darris McCord, Sam Williams and Karras, but young replacements have proved better than adequate. John Baker (acquired from Pittsburgh) or Joe Robb (from St. Louis) can replace McCord, though Baker will be out much of the year with a broken arm. Larry Hand and Jerry Rush are strong, young and quick. The line is not deep, but as long as the first four can play it could be good.
The linebackers could be good, too, but that has to be proved. Paul Naumoff, on one side, took over as a regular late last season, but he is young. Mike Lucci is not a Butkus or a Nitschke, but then no one except Tommy Nobis is. He is, however, a perfectly competent middle linebacker. Wayne Walker on the other side lends the trio the wisdom of his years, while Bill Swain adds good depth.
The secondary does not rate with the best, but it is solid and capable. The star, of course, is Barney, who had a sensational rookie year as a cornerback but is unlikely to do so well this season. Most good defensive backs intercept more passes in the first year than they do later, when they learn the penalty for the chances they have taken gambling on interceptions. Mike Weger and Tom Vaughan are the safeties, while veteran Dick LeBeau will be the other cornerback.
The Lions lost one of the league's better punters when they traded away Stud-still, but rookie Jerry DePoyster, judging from his early form, may be a more than adequate replacement. DePoyster also placekicks, so that 1966's soccer-style discovery, Garo Yepremian, was lost in the shuffle.
All in all, this should be a far better Detroit team than those of recent years. The offense has striking power, potentially the equal of any; the defense, while it does not seem to be as overpowering as the Detroit defenses of the golden years, will benefit from the occasional breathing spell that results from improved offense. There are too many ifs to say that this club can beat out a team as sound and deep as Green Bay, but, in a couple of years, maybe so.