Little, Armstrong and rookie Jon Keyworth, perhaps the Broncos' best fullback since Cookie Gilchrist, should keep the ground game potent. Ralston's No. 3 draft choice, 6'4", 289-pound Tackle Claudie Minor, is not only big, he has fast feet, too. While Riley Odoms may be the best tight end in the game, Ralston is none too deep in pass catchers, even with the acquisition of Otto Stowe from Dallas, and thus will take the calculated risk of playing Bill Van Heusen, his punter, as a wide receiver.
The somewhat uncertain Denver defense should benefit from the trade for John Rowser from Pittsburgh. But the Broncos will be tough against the run atleast, as they employ their odd front alignments, sometimes using four linebackers. Another immediate problem is the schedule: the first three games are with Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Washington. Ouch.
At Kansas City, Hank Stram's big problems are keeping Quarterback Len Dawson free of injury and regaining the rollicking style that used to mark the Chiefs' performances. " Bear Bryant once said to me that the more you win, the more conservative you get," Stram says, "which made me reflect on our situation. We won so big we got away from our personality. We want to recapture the big play in our attack and the enthusiasm that's been our style."
To that end, Stram's top draft choice was Woody Green, a big-play speedster who "looks like he has the ability to do it all." But Green chipped a collarbone against Dallas, which for the time being, at least, leaves the prospective long-gainers up to Ed Podolak, the team's leading rusher last season. Charlie Getty, a No. 2 draft pick, seems ready to take over at left tackle for 35-year-old Jim Tyrer, who was traded to the Washington Redskins, but Stram may not as easily replace Mo Moorman, a starting guard who retired from professional football to enter business.
Were Dawson to stay healthy all season, the Chiefs' offensive worries would diminish greatly. But Dawson, 39, missed eight games last year, and Mike Livingston, who replaced him, moved the team erratically at best. Rookie David Jaynes is the quarterback heir apparent, but Stram would rather not use him much this season.
Kansas City's greatest strength is its defense, which should be good for at least one more big year. Willie Lanier, the All-Pro middle linebacker, has indicated he will retire after this season, and Curley Culp is playing out his option on the way to the WFL. The Chiefs have been sliding, but the right combination of new people and old defenders could stop the decline.
No such hope exists for San Diego, even under the tutelage of Tommy Prothro, one of football's headiest coaches. The Chargers won only two games last year and may not match that this time.