- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Pass defense begins with a good rush, and Gillman is hoping for an improvement after switching Steve DeLong from left end to right. DeLong is a lefthander and uses a lefthander's stance. From the right he can take on an opponent with his left arm and push off quicker toward the quarterback. Houston Ridge, tall and extremely strong, was a tackle last season but has been transferred to left defensive end. "He can be a great, great defensive end," says Defensive Line Coach O.A. Phillips. Ridge is by far the fastest of the linemen and is faster than some of the backs. One tackle is Ron Billingsley. The other could be Scott Appleton, though he is being pressed hard by Washington, who checked into the Charger camp weighing 323.
Bobby Howard will play at left corner if Hill does not beat him out. Speedy Duncan, a fine kick returner, is at right corner, and Kenny Graham is set at strong safety. A 16th draft choice, Dick Farley, may be the free safety. In San Diego's second scrimmage this year with New Orleans—a series that turned into a brawl that floored Gillman, literally—Farley intercepted three passes against the Saints' rookies. Last year Joe Beau-champ led the Chargers in interceptions with three, which tied him for 30th in the AFL. The linebacking is thin, with Frank Buncom gone to Cincinnati and John Baker retired. Rick Redman has moved to the right side, Chuck Allen has returned to the middle and Jeff Staggs is at the left. However, Allen has a history of injuries and weighs only 215. If he is hurt again and Redman goes back to the middle, there is no one of proved quality to play on the right.
But if the Chargers see gloom looming in their defense, the offense changes them rapidly to smiles. Gillman predicts Quarterback John Hadl will have his finest year, and that is saying quite a lot. Last season Hadl passed for 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns, both San Diego records. Since becoming a starter midway through the 1964 season, he has thrown for 85 touchdowns. He was free this year of the sore arm that handicapped him early last season, and Gillman held him out of some exhibition-game duty. Should Hadl be injured, the Chargers would be in deep trouble, since they have only inexperienced Jon Brittenum to back him up.
For receivers, Hadl has three of the best. Tight End Willie Frazier, big and fast, established an AFL record for his position last year by catching 57 passes and led the Chargers in touchdowns with 10. "He can be as good as he wants to be," says Gillman. Jacque MacKinnon stands ready when Frazier isn't. Split End Gary Garrison caught 44 passes, has speed and excellent moves. And then there is Lance Alworth. For the last five seasons Alworth has gained more than 6,000 yards and has caught 60 touchdown passes. Whenever there is an argument over the identity of the best receiver in either league, his name is either at or near the top. Recently, Commissioner Pete Rozelle, in what may have been a slip of the tongue, referred to New Orleans End Dave Parks as the best receiver in pro football, next to Lance Alworth. Alworth is very fast, has astonishing jumping ability and superb hands. His only flaw is a tendency toward leg injuries. Last year Alworth missed three games and was partially disabled for three others but still caught 52 passes for 1,010 yards. When Alworth is healthy, the Chargers have the ability to score on any play. Two rookies—Ken Dyer and Lane Fenner—also show promise as outside receivers. The 6'5" Fenner has been compared by Gillman to Boyd Dowler of the Packers.
San Diego has six veteran running backs in Brad Hubbert, Dick Post, Jim Allison, Paul Lowe, Gene Foster and Russ Smith. Hubbert, who served three years in the Marines, came to camp last season as a 26-year-old free agent and was a starter by the third game. He is fast enough to have run 54 and 80 yards on successive carries in the final game against the Jets, and he breaks tackles with tremendous power. Teaming with Hubbert as running back is little Dick Post, another surprising discovery. Post, 5'9" and 190 pounds, was a reserve flanker until Paul Lowe was hurt. Given an opportunity to run with the ball, Post astounded the league.
"At Houston (in college) I was an inside runner," he says. "As a pro I had to learn to go outside. The whole year was a dream. If you think of everything you ever wanted and then had it all come true, that's what happened to me." Post led the Chargers in rushing with 663 yards. He hurt his knee but kept playing. He had knee surgery in early January, was put into a cast for six weeks and then began a conditioning program of running and weight lifting. By June he was running better than ever. It is claimed that Post ran the 100 in 9.6 before reporting to camp. If he came even close, he is fast enough to provide the Chargers with an outside threat.
The offensive line protected Hadl so well that he was thrown for losses only nine times all season. Left Tackle Ernie Wright, a good pass blocker, has gone to Cincinnati. His replacement is Terry Owens, who now weighs 270, up nearly 50 pounds since his 1966 rookie season. Owens is a strong in-line blocker. Gary Kirner is at left guard and Sam Gruneisen at center. The Chargers are a right-handed running club with Walt Sweeney at right guard and Ron Mix at right tackle. They could use more depth here.
Regular Placekicker Dick Van Raaphorst is gone, but the Chargers should not miss him. Rookie Dennis Partee was doing all the kicking in preseason games and was doing it well.
Last year, after a good beginning, the Broncos gave up 5,201 yards on defense while gaining only 2,947 on offense. That prompted Coach Lou Saban to continue his housecleaning and rebuilding, and it gave Steve Tensi, who was among the Denver quarterbacks thrown for losses 58 times, the idea of taking boxing lessons. "I was working out at the gym and got to watching this boxer and finally asked him if I could work with him," says Tensi. "We sparred for three weeks, and I think it helped my quickness." But in a preseason game against San Francisco, Tensi proved he is still not quick enough, getting snowed under by a 49er blitz and coming up with a broken collarbone. Tensi will be out for at least half the season, and with him will go any chance Denver may have had of making the Western Division a four-team contest. In Tensi's place the Broncos will use Jim LeClair, a second-year man who didn't even play in high school, and John McCormick, who is attempting a comeback after a year's retirement. The Denver quarterbacks will be throwing to Al Denson, a speedster who caught 11 touchdown passes last year. The other wide receiver is Eric Crabtree, who caught 46 passes in 1967. Backing them is Bob Scarpitto, who has led both leagues in punting for two seasons. Tight End Tom Beer has lost 10 pounds, down to 230, and should be more adept at getting away from linebackers.