KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Oakland's road to Miami may not be as smooth this season as it was last. The Kansas City Chiefs—the AFL's first Super Bowl representatives—are capable of making it back again if a number of questionable spots are filled and there is no repetition of the injuries that struck in 1967.
Kansas City has the nucleus of a strong club, beginning with Quarterback Len Dawson, 33, who is consistently near the top of the league in accuracy and in touchdown passes. Dawson needs time to throw the ball and often gets it by operating from a moving pocket. One of his favorite targets is Flanker Otis Taylor, who has fine speed and is a dangerous runner. Gloster Richardson and Frank Pitts, working the opposite side from Taylor after the retirement of Chris Burford, who refused to go to Cincinnati in the expansion draft, are very fast. Tight End Fred Arbanas is an excellent blocker and a good receiver.
The Chiefs have been looking for depth in their running game, which Stram prefers to keep in nearly equal proportion to the passing. The runners available are good if they can stay well. Mike Garrett can break open a game in one thrust, and Curtis McClinton, when he recovers from a broken cheekbone, is a reliable blocker. Wendell Hayes has looked good filling in for McClinton.
The offensive line, wrecked by injuries and hampered by a lack of mobility, has been a main weak point at Kansas City. The Chiefs used their first draft choice to select Maurice Moorman and spent a first-round bonus choice—gained from Houston—to nab George Daney, both of whom will be tried at guard behind Curt Merz, who has recovered from a back injury. Veteran Center Jon Gilliam has retired because of a bad knee, and former all-league Linebacker E.J. Holub, also a victim of injured knees, has moved into that spot ahead of Wayne Frazier and Mike Hudock. Jim Tyrer and Dave Hill at tackles and Ed Budde at left guard have discouraged draftees from winning their jobs for the past five years.
Another problem at Kansas City is the defensive backfield. Left Cornerback Fred Williamson, a Super Bowl starter, was released. Safety Bobby Hunt was picked by Cincinnati. Stram has installed a free-safety defense and has assigned the ball-chasing job to veteran Johnny Robinson. Emmitt Thomas and Goldie Sellers, two speedsters, are competing at left corner, and Willie Mitchell is at the right. But the secondary remains uncertain. Bobby Bell, slowed last year by ailing ankles, is a fixture at left linebacker. The other two linebackers are in doubt. Jim Lynch and Willie Lanier are struggling for the middle position held by Sherrill Headrick until he was summoned to Cincinnati. Chuck Hurston has moved from defensive end, where his 240 pounds were not enough, and is battling Bud Abell for the right linebacker job occupied for years by Holub.
The defensive line is three-fourths set. All-league Jerry Mays is at left end, and the tackles are two huge ones—Buck Buchanan and Ernie Ladd. For a while, Ladd had threatened to retire and continue his wrestling career, but he showed up in camp and, according to Stram, worked hard. "Ernie is a misunderstood person," says Stram. "He has been hustling like a rookie." At right end the job is between the team's top choice in the first combined draft, Eugene Trosch, and former bonus player Aaron Brown, who was tried last season as a fullback. Field-goal Kicker Jan Stenerud, Punter Jerrell Wilson and Kick Returner Noland Smith give the Chiefs added strength.
"This team has always been lacking something in the past," says Tyrer, one of four Kansas City captains. "I have never been able to put my finger on it. Maybe this year we can centralize the team into one body, get everything working together and answer a lot of questions. There has always been talk about our great talent and why we haven't done much with it. We'd like to win and put the monkey on somebody else's back."
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
One other club has a chance at the Western Division championship, but it is likely that by the end of the season the San Diego Chargers will be spoilers rather than serious contenders. Last year the Chargers had an 8-1-1 beginning before the defense fell apart. Defense is the trouble again. Defensive coordinator Tom Bass resigned on the evening of the final game last year and has since joined Paul Brown's staff at Cincinnati. The new defensive coach at San Diego is Chuck Weber, who had been directing the wild, here-I-come-ready-or-not defenses at Boston. Weber has installed a free-safety system not favored by Bass. "I just can't believe our pass defenders are as bad as they looked last year," says Charger Coach Sid Gillman. Both of San Diego's first draft choices went to the defensive unit—Tackle Russ Washington and Cornerback Jim Hill.