Webster concentrated on defensive players in the college draft and picked Jim Files, a very promising middle linebacker, and Wes Grant, a defensive end who will team with Fred Dryer, until now the only consistent rusher. Grant, however, will miss at least five games due to fractured vertebrae. The secondary is excellent but is often run to exhaustion covering receivers close and deep—particularly in the second half when the rush falters. The solution lies midway between better conditioning, which was hurt by the strike, and easing the pressure. Here the Giants got lucky. They picked up Bill Johnson, a booming punter out of the wilds of the Continental League. The Giants figure they lost five games last season because of shaky play by the special teams. Johnson's strong foot and better-disciplined performances from the specials will cut back on the errors.
Out of Pocket
But Webster's future, as well as the team's, rides on the quick arm and pitter-pattering feet of Fran Tarkenton. In this respect the Giants' coach has shown more perception—or is it courage?—than either Sherman or Norm Van Brocklin, both of whom merely tolerated Tarkenton's style instead of exploiting it. Webster has geared the entire offense to the scrambling quarterback. The Giants will run from the I and use more play-action passes. "The idea is to take Tarkenton out of the pocket more often so that he can keep the defenses guessing—shake up their rush." says Webster, who recognizes Tarkenton's mastery of the blitz, a result of exceptional peripheral vision and quick release. At times it was hard to see, since Fran appeared to be playing singles, but that was out of necessity. Now he has playmates: Wide Receivers Rich Houston and Clifton McNeil (from San Francisco) and Running Back Ron Johnson (from Cleveland), whose reputed speed may force the linebackers to keep their distance.
Philadelphia and St. Louis will be a threat only to their coaches. Charley Winner has more problems than Mayor Lindsay and one-quarter of the time to find solutions. Once again the Cardinals are riven by cliques, dissension and unrest—or worse. The worse was the antifootball guru, Linebacker Dave Meggyesy, and his disciple, Guard Rick Sortun. With only a one-year contract, Winner cleaned house. Ten Cards left. Some were cut, others were traded and Meggyesy and Sortun decided football was no longer relevant and quit.
Unrest boiled over because the team had split loyalties toward Quarterbacks Charley Johnson and Jim Hart. Johnson was traded to Houston and most of his older partisans arc gone. Now it is claimed peace and harmony prevail. No way. It's a lull.
Winner's surgery left things a mess. The rush line is a complete hash, with Chuck Walker, its best man, playing out of position on the outside. Don Parish, Meggyesy's replacement, is a rookie from Stanford, while Middle Linebacker Jamie Rivers is injury-prone and has yet to complete a season. The Cards hoped to have a new middle linebacker but their No. 2 draft pick, Jim Corrigall from Kent State, was disturbed by the nation's violence and signed to play in Canada for $25,000 less. The secondary, once tough man-to-man sharpshooters, is now playing mostly zone or combinations. The Johnson trade brought Cornerback Miller Farr to the Cardinals and he teams with second-year man Roger Wehrli, who began brilliantly, was burned a few times, then tended to lay back.
The one positive factor is the establishment of Hart as the Cards' leader. "You could feel Hart's insecurity in the huddle last year," says a lineman. "He'd look to the older players to make decisions. Now he's head honcho." Hart agrees. "Until now I've been playing scared, looking to the bench whenever a play was stopped," he says. "Now I know what I must do to succeed, to move the team."
He certainly has brilliant receivers and strong running backs to call upon, but the offensive line, which had been the team's great strength, is playing two new men in the middle and the coordination so far is not good. It's just not in the Cards this year.
The Eagles' Jerry Williams, smart and low-key, has a sense of humor. He'll need it. His offensive line has been described as being as effective as bears on skates. Norm Snead has had the bruises to prove the point. Even when he had a better line Snead wasn't agile enough to avoid the rush. But then he insists on the longer, more time-consuming calls. This weakness has to be in his head, not his arm, which is strong and accurate. He never learned, despite frequent interceptions, not to force the long plays, but to go to the underzones.
Aye, Aye for the I