The Jets' front
four could be another problem if they are injured as much as they have been in
the past, but of even greater concern is linebacking. "We need better
coordination between our rush and our coverage," Ewbank says. "Our
linebackers must help the secondary and the pass-rush more."
offense, directed by Joe Namath, should be devastating again unless the
contract hassles that Ewbank experienced with John Riggins, Emerson Boozer and
Winston Hill, among others, have a lingering effect. Riggins, whose response to
one Ewbank telegram was, "Need more green before I get mean," missed
all of camp before finally reporting. He may need time to regain the form he
showed last season, when he rushed for 944 yards in 12 games. But Ewbank is
pleased with 30-year-old Jim Nance, who signed on as a free agent, lost 30
pounds and turned in some impressive exhibitions.
The Jets' long
suit, of course, is throwing the football, as Namath demonstrated last season
when he passed for 19 touchdowns, a league-leading 2,816 yards—and 21
interceptions. Namath did not have to have his knees aspirated this year.
Healthy, Joe makes New York go, complemented as he is by highly talented
receivers. The best is 6'5" Tight End Rich Caster, who has speed to match
his size. He averaged 21.4 yards on his 39 catches last year.
intriguing team in the AFC East, or in football, is Baltimore, which retains
but 12 members from its 1970 Super Bowl manifest. General Manager Joe Thomas
has traded 13 veterans since January and, with new Coach Howard
Schnellenberger, is building the Colts with players still going through social
introductions. Perhaps to make that chore easier, one of Schnellenberger's
first acts was to eliminate 30% of the playbook.
quarterback, at least for now, is Marty Domres, who replaced John Unitas and
threw 127 passes before one was intercepted. "Marty did a fantastic job
under the greatest pressure in the history of the NFL," says Thomas.
"If he plays in the Super Bowl, it won't be as bad." Baltimore was 4-5
with Domres at the helm and Schnellenberger is hoping he'll improve on that
record so that Bert Jones, the Colts' top draft choice, won't have to be thrown
to the wolves too early.
competent running backs and the receivers improved considerably with the
addition of Tight End Raymond Chester, whom Thomas acquired from Oakland for
the disgruntled Bubba Smith. The linebacking unit of Ted Hendricks, Mike Curtis
and Ray May is one of the best and the secondary should be better, but both
lines are untested. The offensive line averages four years' experience. The
defensive front four includes rookie Joe Ehrmann and the man who will try to
make Colt fans forget Bubba—rookie Mike Barnes.
Buffalo could be
the most improved team in the division if Lou Saban can upgrade his rush
defense and keep his offensive line together for the entire season. Almost from
the opening kickoff, injuries knocked five starting interior linemen out of
action last year, and the situation was makeshift thereafter. "We had guys
coming in on Thursday and starting on Sunday," says Saban. Even so, the
Bills beat the 49ers and Washington, tied Detroit and gave Miami its closest
game, 24-23. In O. J. Simpson, the NFL rushing champ, Buffalo has the finest
running back in the game. Quarterback Dennis Shaw is better than his '72
statistics, J. D. Hill is a superb wide receiver but Middle Linebacker Jim
Cheyunski injured his knee and may be out for the season. Once again, the Bills
appear to be one year and two good linemen away.
whom the New England Patriots lured from Oklahoma, has farther to travel. He
plans to start by making the world safer for Quarterback Jim Plunkett, who had
a dismal season (39 sacks, 25 interceptions, last among 27 rated NFL passers)
in 1972. But so did all the other Pats, bereft as they were of such niceties as
In aid of
Plunkett, New England picked Guard John Hannah, Fullback Sam Cunningham and
Wide Receiver Darryl Stingley in the first round. "I hope we can develop
our inside running game," Fairbanks says. "An assaulting type of
rushing attack would give our quarterback protection." Defensively, the
Patriots probably have more holes than Fairbanks can plug. As he says, "We
need a lot of help in a lot of places."