The running backs are big and battle-tested, although the starters have not been effective on wide plays in the past. Ken Willard is a tremendously powerful runner with agility, and John David Crow, who seems to grow more durable with age, has great balance and running sense. Behind them is Gary Lewis, who weighs 230 pounds and has moves and speed but who has never been as good as his promise. Doug Cunningham showed flashes of power last year, and rookie Dwight Lee looks promising. The 49er running, then, could be excellent and is sure to be good.
Even with Parks gone, the 49ers will have good receivers. Dick Witcher, who led the team in receiving last year, could develop into a superstar, and Sonny Randle, from the St. Louis Cardinals, has better than average speed, beautiful moves and the wisdom of 10 years in the league. Behind them are Kay McFarland, who has been hampered by injuries, and was out all last year, Clinton McNeil and rookie Tommie Gray, a real speedster. The receiving corps is rounded out by Bob Windsor at tight end, who replaces veteran Monty Stickles, traded to New Orleans for Defensive Back George Rose.
The offensive line is a question mark. Walter Rock, a key tackle, has said he wants to be traded into the Washington area to take care of a family business. John Thomas, an All-NFL guard in 1966, was lost in a freak injury in 1967, severing tendons in both knees in a fall. Two veterans who played in the Pro Bowl are back—Bruce Bosley at center and Howard Mudd at guard. Len Rohde is a superb tackle, and Elmer Collett, who replaced Thomas in 1967, looks strong. Thomas has done well enough in practice but has not been tested in game stress. The 49ers' first draft choice, Forrest Blue of Auburn, possibly could replace Rock. If all the ifs are answered positively, this could be the best offensive line in football.
Unless you are a real insider, you may be surprised to learn which defensive line in pro football led the league in racking the quarterback. It wasn't the Rams' Fearsome Foursome, the Cowboys', the redoubtable Packers' or the Colts'. It was San Francisco's, with Stan Hindman and Clark Miller at the ends and Roland Lakes and Charles Krueger at tackles. Krueger is 31, just in the prime of life for a tackle. The others are back and, lurking on the sidelines, there is the massive figure of Hardy, who at Notre Dame last year was considered to be the best lineman in college football. Nolan can fit him in wherever he is needed most, on either the offensive or defensive lines.
The linebackers rate high. Dave Wilcox played in the Pro Bowl in 1967; Matt Hazeltine, in the league for 13 years, should have been All-NFL many of them but, because of the 49ers' lowly estate, he has been severely underrated. Nolan gave up a draft choice to Dallas to get Harold Hays, who could be his middle backer. Ed Beard played the middle last year and is good, and second-year man Frank Nunley gives the club some depth.
The secondary may be weak at free safety, but there is talent and experience at the other three spots. Jim Johnson and Kermit Alexander on the corners almost match Green Bay's Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter. At strong safety, Alvin Randolph is in his third season and has improved each year. As for the free-safety problem, Johnny Fuller will get first crack at the job, although Nolan has the recently acquired Rose on hand to lend added protection. Rookie John Woitt will be around to back them both up.
The 49er kicking was miserable in 1967 but may be better this year if Tommy Davis, once the best combination field-goal kicker and punter in the business, has fully recovered from the knee operation which ruined him last year. Spurrier punted for a 37-plus yard average, not up to NFL standards.
"I need depth," Nolan said recently. "Depth and time. I'm changing the guys around, looking at them and evaluating them. But the big thing is time."
Given time, the 49ers could win their first championship of any kind, ever. But 1968 is not that time.