LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams will look much the same as they did last year, which is bad news for the rest of the division. Coach George Allen, who views first-year men with a wary eye, brought only 10 rookies to camp, and, if three of them make the regular roster, it will represent a record. Few rookies have stuck with the Rams in the last two years.
"Mr. Reeves does not believe in drafting free agents, and I would prefer to work with the men who will play," Allen explains. For the first time since he took over the club two years ago, Allen is reasonably sure which men will play. In his first season as head coach he traded freely, trying to plug holes in the Rain offense and defense. When the 1967 season began, the holes were filled and the only questions remaining were whether Roman Gabriel had matured enough to carry the Rams to a championship and whether the club had discarded the defeatist attitude which had negated strong personnel in previous years. Gabriel, by the end of last season, had improved enormously, especially in the Rams' last two regular-season victories over Green Bay and Baltimore. In those games, this big, strong quarterback completed 65% of his passes, six of them for touchdowns, and he had the Rams playing with the �lan of the Packers, if not quite with Green Bay's cold efficiency.
This season, however, the Rams will try to match the Packers across the board. The only buttressing Allen needed was in experienced depth, and he has that now, thanks to a trade with Detroit.
"We got an ideal backup quarterback for Gabriel in Milt Plum," Allen said. "And we picked up depth where we needed it in Pat Studstill and Tom Watkins." Studstill, an exceptional punter, turned out to add more strength to his hand than Allen had anticipated. When End Jack Snow held out during much of the training season, Allen was able to regard his absence with composure, secure in the knowledge that Studstill could replace him.
Indeed, the Ram offense, which led the league in scoring with 394 points in 1967, may be even more effective this year. The offensive line is in its second year as a unit, and it was strong last season. Gabriel has the air and the ability of a championship quarterback and, at 28, should be as good all year as he was in the second half of 1967.
Gabriel will have enough time to demonstrate what he has learned. Allen, who sets goals for his team in various categories before each season, set a blocking goal for the Ram offensive line in 1967. They were to allow opposing defenses to rack up Gabriel no more than 31 times (in 1966 the Ram quarterback had been dumped an ignominious 54 times). The Ram line not only achieved the goal but surpassed it. Gabriel was dropped only 25 times.
On defense, Allen told the Rams to hold the opposition to fewer than 200 points if they hoped to win a title. They held their opponents to 196. Other defensive goals, with the performance in parentheses: scores by Ram defense, 5 (4); opponent rushing average, 3.1 (3.1); interceptions, 30 (32); opponents' completion average, 46% (47.6); yards interceptions returned, 500 (476).
In Allen's first year as coach, the Rams made eight of the 10 goals he set for them, finishing first in the league in two categories. In 1967 they were first in four categories, and it is doubtful that they will be able to improve on that achievement in 1968. The goals obviously become self-defeating in the sense of human limitations. "The goals for 1968 are to better the performances in 1967," Allen says. If the Rams could do that, especially on defense, they would lead the league in everything.
Realistically, they should run better. Les Josephson led the Coastal Division in rushing with 800 yards in 1967 and should be stronger. Dick Bass had an off season but showed more quickness in camp. Both Bass and Josephson will get quality help from Willie Ellison, a young back who was the Ram Rookie of the Year in '67, and from Tommy Mason, whose rookie season was 1961. Mason hobbled on bad legs in 1967, but, if he can make a comeback, the Ram running attack should explode.