New York improved dramatically in 1967 on the scrambling and throwing of Quarterback Fran Tarkenton and a defense which, while erratic and given to inexplicable lapses at times, was still much better than the year before. The improvement should carry on into 1968, and the Giants, for the first time in five years, should win more games than they lose.
Tarkenton had the best season he has ever had in 1967, and he should do even better than that in 1968, after a year in which to familiarize himself with his receivers and with the Sherman system. The Giant offensive line, something of a disaster until last year, has firmed up and shows signs of real strength. An off-season trade which brought Steve Wright from the Green Bay Packers has added strength, and the Giants, for the first time, are in a position where they can even trade an offensive lineman for help elsewhere. Tarkenton needs protection less than most quarterbacks, since he is capable of evading most tacklers, but he needs a quick, alert line to block during his scrambles and he has one. Rich Buzin, a second-round draft choice from Penn State, shows tremendous potential in the offensive line.
Ernie Koy gained 704 yards rushing last year, when he reached full maturity as an NFL running back, and he should benefit from the return of Tucker Frederickson this season, if Frederickson has recovered enough from his second bout of off-season knee surgery. Randy Minniear and Allen Jacobs give the club veteran backup help if Frederickson or Koy falters.
Tarkenton's receivers will probably be the same, and terrific. Homer Jones led the league in touchdown passes caught last year and should do as well or even better. Aaron Thomas, splitting time between tight end and flanker, caught 51 passes, nine of them for touchdowns. Joe Morrison, the old reliable of the Giant offense, has played everywhere and played well. He can play in the backfield or as a flanker and be effective either way. Bob Crespino played tight end adequately when called upon last season, but an injury this year puts his status in doubt.
The big Giant improvement should come on defense. The defensive line began to jell last year with the addition of Bob Lurtsema and Bruce Anderson, and this year Allie Sherman has added Sam Silas, the ex-Pro Bowler from St. Louis, to give needed depth and a stronger pass rush. Jim Katcavage, after 12 years, still applies pressure from his defensive-end position, and his experience stabilizes the whole line.
The linebacking improved in 1967 with the addition of Vince Costello from Cleveland and the development of Ken Avery. The trades that brought Tommy Crutcher from Green Bay and Barry Brown from Baltimore have helped this department even more and give the Giants depth at the most vital of all defensive positions. Again, here is a position where the club has so much depth that Sherman can use some of his excess for trade bait for future draft choices if he likes. Costello is a bit long in the tooth, but his encyclopedic knowledge of offenses and his sure feeling for defense make him exceptionally valuable for a young team.
The development of youngsters Scott Eaton and Willie Williams and the acquisition of Bruce Maher from Detroit have given the Giants unaccustomed security in their secondary defense. Maher, Wendell Harris and Spider Lockhart have the experience to counterbalance the ebullience of youth, and all of the Giant pass defenders are blessed with good speed. The Giant defense could be a real surprise, if the pass rush picks up and if the linebacking lives up to promise.
The development of Ron Bly, a graduate of the Giants' Westchester farm club, as a running back could solve one of the club's more pressing problems. Heretofore, the Giant runners have been useful for limited yardage and as a moving wall to protect Tarkenton in his flights of fancy scrambling, but Bly could provide speed to the outside and a game-breaking threat to the running game.
In the past he has had the rookie tendency to use up his fakes behind the line, giving defenses time to adjust and mass to meet him. He has seemed, in the early games, to have developed better discipline; he now hits the hole quickly and with authority, and the moves wasted in the backfield are very useful once he has crossed the line.
Bly could provide the final string to an offensive bow which lacked nothing else. If Bly is as good as he has looked, Tarkenton can exploit as varied an armament as there is in the East.