Green Bay fans have long adored the defense, which carried the Packers to at least one championship in their final moments of glory. Now only Lionel Aldridge ("I was known simply as the other defensive end until Willie Davis retired") is a recognizable name on the rush line. Combined with Mike McCoy, Bob Brown and Clarence Williams, the front four has improved and its philosophy has changed from containment to pressure since the bigger, stronger linemen are better equipped for that assignment.
Linebacking remains the muscle as well as the nerve center of the Packer defense. The outside backers, Dave Robinson and Fred Carr, shut off the flanks and cover the under zones, but there is a question whether Ray Nitschke will start, the plan being to replace him with Jim Carter. "I'm not holding the door and moving aside," vows Nitschke. "I'll be at the old stand when the season begins." Either way, the linebackers will be accomplished enough to compensate for a weakened secondary. The problem here is not the old reliable safeties but timid young cornerbacks.
In a word, the Chicago Bears situation is unbelievable. It began with knee operations on Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, the two most gifted performers in football. Sayers' return to form, even to partial service, remains in doubt, but Butkus seems to have recovered. Whatever chance the Bears have for a respectable season hinges upon them. The unpromising picture is further darkened by six salary malcontents, one of whom, Defensive Back Bennie McRae, never showed up and was traded to the Giants. Dick Gordon, the NFL's leading receiver, and George Seals, a regular on the defensive line, reported but remain disgruntled and unsigned.
Moreover, the Bears have problems like who to play at quarterback, tight end and running back. The quarterback will be either Jack Concannon or Bobby Douglass. Concannon will probably win by default. He would get the popular vote of the players, since the contempt for Douglass has reached the point where they boo and curse his calls at the line of scrimmage. Both men have ability, but at different positions. Concannon would make a good receiver and Douglass is a natural to be the Bears' starting fullback. However, they insist on playing quarterback.
Running produced only three touchdowns last year and most of the feckless backs have been traded or cut, the Bears choosing to start afresh with rookies Joe Moore and Jim Harrison. Until he was injured, Moore showed to advantage; Harrison has revealed nothing. The latest aspirants: Grabowski and Don Shy.
The defense is strong enough to rescue a few games and make low-scoring contests out of most others. It is Chicago's only hope for a decent season.