At running back the Broncos have Floyd Little, the Syracuse All-America now entering his second season. The rest of the running-back picture is not in focus, just as it is difficult to get a clear idea of other areas of the Bronco organization. The offensive line, which was not good last year, has a nucleus of Tackles Sam Brunelli and Tom Cichowski, Guards George Goeddeke and Bob Young and Center Larry Kaminski. Several newcomers could wind up as starters, including No. 1 draft choice Curly Culp and No. 3 choice Bob Vaughn, both guards.
Since Saban took over, the Bronco training camp has looked like a bus terminal. At one point last season there were 22 rookies and 10 second-year men on the 40-player roster. Easily the youngest team in either league, Denver won three and lost 11, and Saban never quit dealing. Cornerbacks Goldie Sellers and Nemiah Wilson were traded to Kansas City and New York for draft choices, Halfback Charlie Mitchell went to Buffalo, Fullback Wendell Hayes was dispatched to Kansas City, Guard Ernie Park left for Oakland, Linebacker Gene Jeter went to Buffalo, starting Right Guard Pat Matson and Safety Lonnie Wright moved to Cincinnati. Saban then recruited more than 60 free agents and signed 15 draftees.
A year ago Saban went with three rookie linebackers—Frank Richter, Chip Myrtle and John Huard. All three have returned. The defensive line also is intact, although in a revised version. Pete Duranko, who was tried at linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive end his rookie season, has moved to right end and will stay there. Rich Jackson moves to the left side to use his strength against running plays. Dave Costa is a proven right tackle, and Jerry Inman is at left tackle. At safety the lone returnee is Jack Lentz. Bobby Ply, a veteran of Kansas City, is coming off an injury at safety. All the rest are rookies. With two rookie cornerbacks, the Broncos can hardly hope for decided improvement in their pass defense.
Saban admits he doesn't know exactly what to expect. "How far can we come since we really only have one year of experience as a team? How do you measure this club?" says Saban. "All I can say is I do feel, this year, that we can be competitive."
Paul Brown has been acknowledged as a coaching genius, and he will need every bit of wisdom he has ever possessed if his Cincinnati Bengals, newest team in the AFL, are to rise from the depths of the West this year. Cincinnati was not overly rewarded with talent in the expansion draft, but then, has there ever been an expansion team that was? "But I think we're ready to have a little fun," says Brown. "We may surprise a lot of people."
In putting the Bengals together, Brown looked around and found the quarterback he wanted in Miami. It cost two first-round draft choices to get John Stofa, but he had been a very effective passer in last year's preseason before he broke his leg in the opener and lost his job to Bob Griese. This year Stofa twisted his knee in an exhibition against Denver and was replaced by rookie Dewey Warren of Tennessee, who may turn out to be Brown's man of the future. For receivers, Stofa or Warren can look for a couple with promise—Warren McVea and Rod Sherman. McVea returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown in the Denver preseason game, putting on display the speed and niftiness for which he was famous in college. Monk Williams has also looked impressive on kick returns.
The Bengals have a problem at running back, with rookies Tom Smiley, Jess Phillips and Paul Robinson contesting for the starling backfield now that Bobby Burnett, who was AFL Rookie of the Year at Buffalo in 1966, has been cut. Bob Johnson, the Bengals' No. 1 draft choice, is flanked at guards by veteran Pat Matson and rookie Dave Middendorf. Ernie Wright, a longtime regular at San Diego, and rookie Howard Fest are the tackles, with either Bill Peterson, Bob Trumpy or Andre White at tight end.
The defensive unit is spotted with experience. Sherrill Headrick, a 10-year veteran, is a top middle linebacker. Frank Buncom handles one side and Al Beauchamp or Dan Brabham the other. The defensive backfield has Fletcher Smith and Bobby Hunt from Kansas City, White Graves from Boston and Charley King from Buffalo. Three rookie linemen—Bill Staley, Bill Kindricks and Harry Gunner—have been getting plenty of attention. In one early game Staley made eight unassisted tackles. For the many Cincinnati rookies, this will be a year of lessons, most of them painful.