Of course, the principal problem of the Redskin offense is obtaining possession of the football. Washington had the worst pass defense in the league in 1967 and next to the worst defense, overall. Sam Huff has retired, which certainly is no help. The defensive line of Carl Kammerer and Ron Snidow at ends and Joe Rutgens and Walt Barnes at tackle was good enough against runs but may have accounted in large measure for the Redskins' inability to knock down passes. The defensive back-field leaked grievously while opposing quarterbacks took their own sweet time to find receivers. Graham has tried to shore up the leaks by drafting a defensive back No. 1 ( Jim Smith of Oregon) and trading for Pat Fischer of the St. Louis Cardinals. Veterans Dick Smith, Rickie Harris, Tommy Walters and Brig Owens are back again, plus an assortment of free agents, but the key to the Redskin pass defense still lies in the charge of the defensive line, which must improve radically to help out the backs.
The linebackers, sans Huff, are eager but young. Chris Hanburger, at one corner, is a potential all-league backer. Ed Breding, who replaced Huff for five games when Huff was injured last year, is bigger (236) and faster than Sam but far short of Huff on savvy. A battle is in progress for the other corner spot with Sid Williams and a rookie high-draft choice, Tom Roussel, in the running.
The Redskin kicking game was as ineffectual as any other segment last year. Charlie Gogolak, the soccer-style kicker, pulled a muscle early and sat out most of the year. He and five other kickers hit a paltry seven of 26 field-goal attempts, failed to reach the goal line on kickoffs often. Gogolak is back and, if he is healthy, he may win some of the close games the club lost in 1967.
On balance, however, the prospects for success this season are dreary. If New Orleans had stayed in the division, the Redskins might have been assured of finishing third. But the New York Giants look better than the Skins. So do the Cowboys and even the Eagles.
It may be possible for a club to be un-luckier than the Philadelphia Eagles, but it is hard to magine how. They begin the season with a bankrupt owner, a starting quarterback with a broken leg, no promising rookies, the worst defense in pro football and, lastly, an opening game against Green Bay. Their No. 2 quarterback ( King Hill) came to camp overweight, and the No. 3 ( John Huarte) is an AFL reject.
What all of this adds up to, of course, is disaster—a losing season. In 1967 the Eagles were 6-7-1, scoring 351 points and giving up 409. They may not do that well in 1968. Norm Snead, the starting signal caller, broke his leg on the first play of the first exhibition game and will be out until at least midseason. Replacement Hill, even at his svelte best, has never shown championship quality as a quarterback. He has championship confidence, though.
"I feel I can take over the club and move it," he says. "I was close to becoming No. 1 last year when I broke my hand in the second exhibition game. I feel I can make the Eagles a winner." Huarte, who was released by the Boston Patriots and the New York Jets of the AFL, was recruited for Notre Dame by Eagle Coach Joe Kuharich. He made the Irish No. 1, but it is doubtful that he can do the same for Philadelphia.
The quarterback, whoever he is, will have good receivers to throw to in Gary Ballman, Mike Ditka, Fred Hill and Ben Hawkins. Hawkins, a very fast and elusive flanker, caught 59 passes for a league high total of 1,265 yards in 1967; Ballman, who has been one of the league's premier receivers for several years, was slowed by pulled hamstring muscles and caught only 36. Ditka, the Bear tradee, may have been misused on deep patterns instead of the short turnouts thrown him in Chicago, but he caught 26 balls before being sidelined by a knee injury late in the year. They make up almost as good a trio of pass catchers as there is in the league.
The running backs are minus Timmy Brown, a potential Gale Sayers who was used only sparingly last year. Brown was traded to Baltimore for Defensive Back Alvin Haymond, one of the best punt returners in pro football, and he pinpointed the Eagles' big fault as he left. "That's fine," said Brown. "If the Eagles can ever get the other team to punt."