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Whatever the requirements, it also helps if the rookie's position is not well stocked with veterans. Woods almost certainly would have remained with Green Bay if the Packers' outstanding running backs, John Brockington and MacArthur Lane, had not returned to camp. But they reported, and in time Woods was waived.
The most talked-about rookie in the beginning of the year was the Dallas Cowboys' Ed (Too Tall) Jones, the 6'9", 260-pound defensive end from Tennessee State, who was the first collegian drafted. Jones has been used only intermittently, primarily against the pass where his height can be most effective, but he is nonetheless the kind of draft choice every team prefers.
The Chicago Bears' No. 1 choice, Waymond Bryant, a teammate of Too Tall at Tennessee State, was such a pick, too, and his fine play at linebacker has contributed to the Bears' strong defense this season. But Charley Wade, a first-year player with the Bears ("first year" means he was not activated for more than three games in previous seasons), was the last pick in the 1973 draft. Waived from Miami to Chicago, Wade has caught 32 passes this season for 600 yards and a touchdown.
John Dutton, a defensive end from Nebraska, gives Baltimore an improved pass rush; the St. Louis Cardinals have made good use of Greg Hartle, a linebacker from Newberry College; the New England Patriots might not enjoy the 6-3 record they have without Sam Hunt, a linebacker from Stephen F. Austin; and the New Orleans Saints are delighted with Wide Receiver Joel Parker from Florida, who has caught 28 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Houston's Billy Johnson has been among the leaders in kick returns; Defensive Tackle Bill Kollar has impressed the Cincinnati Bengals, and Mercury Morris' unhappiness with Miami is offset in part by the fine running of Benny Malone, who, like Green, is from Arizona State.
This surprising success of so many unheralded newcomers may call for a reassessment of training-camp priorities. Fred Schubach, the Colts' player personnel director, says, "This is going to convince some coaches that they should look at the kids longer." But Schubach also points out that the weeks the rookies spent in camp without the veterans were a psychological advantage, too.
"A lot of times, when the veterans come in," he says, "the rookies are overawed. All of a sudden they're face-to-face with these famous people they've read so much about, and they become timid. This year there were no veterans to speak of, and the kids were on a par with everyone. They had more confidence."
Apparently, they retained that confidence when the strike ended and the veterans returned, or at least they tried to. While NFL hazing has diminished to little more than mealtime singing and a rookie show, some newcomers confronted the camp ritual with a defiance unthinkable a few seasons ago.
"When our veterans came back," says Wide Receiver Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh's No. 1 choice from USC (the Steelers have another impressive rookie receiver in John Stallworth of Alabama A&M), "I told them we weren't going to put on any kind of rookie show because we'd been here longer and it was our camp. I said that because I run my mouth more than some of our other guys. Well, Mean Joe heard about it and I was the first one to sing, and they kept me up there about an hour and a half." It was less a joke at Atlanta, where Gerald Tinker, the Kent State Olympic 400-meter-relay gold medalist turned wide receiver, flatly refused to sing his school song or any other. "Hell, no," he told a vet. "Us rookies are on strike, too."
"Times have changed," says Steeler veteran Andy Russell. "Rookies are cockier than they used to be. Bobby Layne would tell a rookie, "You will meet me in the bar at 4 a.m. or I'll get you cut.' That doesn't happen anymore."