On paper, anyway, the trades have put the Chargers into contention. Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder said that he had moved them from 5-9 to 8-6 in his future book, but never trust a Greek bearing guesses. The Chargers may even be 9-5.
Svare is basically a defensive coach, as befits a graduate linebacker of the New York Giant days in Yankee Stadium when the chant "Dee-fense!" referred to the Giants, not the baseball Yankees. The somewhat vulnerable line he inherited at San Diego is being rebuilt on large, dense bodies. Svare landed Deacon Jones from the Rams, Lionel Aldridge from the Packers and Dave Costa from the Broncos. Then he got fiery Tim Rossovich from Philadelphia to round out his linebackers but a knee injury will sideline him for a good part of the season. His defensive backs have always been good, albeit harried by the inefficiency of those up ahead. If the new people fit in rapidly, the Chargers will have remedied their biggest fault of a year ago—a lamentable tendency to give up easy points on long gainers and hard points on long marches.
The Chargers may be able to score, although this has not been Svare's forte as a coach. When he took his team to the Rams' camp one day for a preseason scrimmage, he left the offensive platoon behind because some of them were ailing and some of them—notably Duane Thomas—were missing. A Los Angeles sportswriter, remembering Svare's career as head coach of the Rams, sighed. "A typical Svare team," he said. "All defense, no offense."
Not quite no offense. The Chargers have a pro quarterback in John Hadl, who has been in the league 10 years and at last seems capable of reading defenses. Always possessed of a strong arm, he is also accurate. For targets he has fast and evasive Wide Receivers Jerry LeVias, 5'10", Gary Garrison and Dave Williams. They will be hard to overlook, even behind the charge of a big defensive line.
The offensive line is as good as any and, should Thomas deign to play for the Chargers, it will be clearing the way for some excellent ballcarriers. Cid Edwards, acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, gives the Chargers power at fullback for the first time in years, and he teams with Mike Garrett, as good a small running back as lives. Then, of course, there is Thomas, another Jim Brown, some say. Or is there?
Last—and least—are the Denver Broncos, a club that has clumped along for 12 seasons never winning more games than it lost. The Broncos have a completely new coaching staff, beginning with John Ralston, who produced Rose Bowl winners at Sanford University. Ralston is a proponent of positive thinking and, in an unguarded moment during the summer, figured out how the Broncos could, conceivably, win the division with a 10-4 record. A more likely prognosis is 4-10.
The Broncos do have a good defensive unit, even without Costa, who led the team in pouncing on quarterbacks. Denver, in fact, led the league by zapping opposing throwers 44 times before they could get the ball off. The linebackers and defensive backs, understandably, performed nobly behind so savage a rush.
Even with Floyd Little, the Broncos do not have the offensive thrust to take advantage of their defensive might. When a Denver writer asked who would play quarterback in an exhibition game, he was told, "Oh, either or."
Either is Don Horn, who once showed flashes with Green Bay but who hasn't shown much since; or is Steve Ramsey, who came by trade from New Orleans in 1971. And just in case neither is, Ralston has acquired "perhaps" in the person of Charley Johnson, an itinerant quarterback who last sprayed passes for the Houston Oilers. Ralston announced that he would put in an unpredictable offense for the Broncos, featuring lots of passes, especially on first down. Oh, well.
The Oakland Raiders should win the division, barring a barrage of injuries or an early onset of senility for Blanda. They have depth, striking power, defense, a good kicking game and a tradition of winning. If they should falter, it will be the Kansas City Chiefs again, with almost similar equipment, but minus Blanda.