Following this theory, Knox has simplified technical instruction for the Rams. He worked with the offensive line at Detroit, so the examples that occur to him often have to do with blocking techniques. Now he crouched in a three-point stance, imitating a guard.
"When I was playing we used to practice for hours on taking just the right steps to pull out and block," he said. "We even had footprints drawn on the ground to show just where you should put your feet. Collier taught me to forget all that, and I teach my players the same thing. Blanton said to me one day, 'If you see a pretty lady walking down the street toward you and you want to go over and say hello to her, you don't say to yourself, I'm going to cross-step at a 45-degree angle and plant my foot on this spot, then pivot and plant my other foot there. You look at her and start walking. So look at the guy you're going to block and follow your eyes. They control the rest of your body.' "
The Ram blockers follow their eyes. "They have a point to block on," Knox said. "Right of the numbers, between the numbers, left of the numbers, outside the right knee, outside the left knee, depending on the kind of block we want. They have a specific spot on the man to aim at, just as the passer uses a spot on the body of the receiver as his target. The range of the receiver's arms around that spot provides the margin of error. You simplify the targets and you build the lessons in with repetition, repetition, repetition, so that it becomes a part of the subconscious. You try to do that so thoroughly that the player, under stress, won't revert to old bad habits.
"Here is an example. When I was at Kentucky we had a big game with Ole Miss. We were leading late in the game and we had to punt from near our goal. We had a fine fullback who was a great blocker, but when we lined up to punt he was on the left of the punter instead of protecting the kicking leg, and we got the punt blocked. When he came off the field I asked him about it because he had never lined up there before. 'We had a left-footed punter for four years in high school,' he told me. Under stress, he reverted. So we try to wipe out reversions like that by working hard on repetition and concentration. Concentration lets you keep your cool under pressure. That's why we tell our players to ignore cheap shots. If you're thinking about getting even with the guy who slugged you, you can't think about the play. Concentration is keeping your cool."
One of the reasons the Ram exhibition record was 2-3-1 was Knox' insistence upon giving every player on the roster a full chance to make the team. "We played everyone enough to find out honestly how well they could perform," he said. "Too many times I've seen a player cut from a squad simply because he did not have sufficient opportunity to show what he could do. I was determined this would not happen here. It's like in baseball. You have to give a batter enough times at bat to find out what his true hitting ability is. So we had a schedule of playing time for all the players—we did not let the game dictate playing time. Maybe we wanted a rookie back to carry the ball 15 times. He stayed in until he had run his quota."
This policy also served to give the players faith in their new coach, and this is translated into their desire to do things his way. A prime example is Isiah Robertson, who had a brilliant rookie season, then tailed off in 1972.
"Coach changed my whole philosophy of playing," Robertson said in Houston. "I used to be kind of a loner, looking out for myself, gambling on the big play, the big interception, that kind of thing. Now I get more satisfaction out of contributing to a shutout. It's being part of a well-designed defense that counts, not the individual play." This is a player whom coaches were calling surly and intractable a year ago.
Hadl is another key player who has accommodated himself to Knox' ways. This year the Ram offense has been keyed to the run, with the pass being used sparingly but to good effect. In four games Hadl had completed 38 of 52 for "538 yards. "We have a very flexible pass offense," he said one day last week. "The running game, of course, makes it that much more effective. I don't mind waiting for the right time to pass when we have the tools we have here. I've never been with a coaching staff so well organized or so easy to work with. Chuck is one of the rarest guys in the world—a coach with no hindsight."
Larry McCutcheon, the second-year running back who came off the taxi squad to give the Rams long-needed speed, has teamed well with another second-year man, Jim Bertelsen. Going into the Houston game, they were the fourth-and fifth-ranked rushers in the NFL.
"Everything is so right," McCutcheon says. "The line blocks perfectly, the coaches know exactly what they're doing, everything goes. It is such a good year."