Brockington, who has averaged 1,040 yards in his four seasons at Green Bay, provides scoring punch but he will miss the blocking of MacArthur Lane, now with the Chiefs. Impressive mini-rookie Willard Harrell (5'8�") may fill Lane's shoes.
Not even O.J. can run if there aren't any holes, but that's the problem with the Packer offensive line: too many holes. All-Pro Gale Gillingham was one of three starting linemen to retire, and tackle Bill Hayhoe is out for the season.
Defense kept the Packers near .500 last season, but the loss of All-Pro Linebacker Ted (Mad Stork) Hendricks, who played out his option and went to Oakland, will certainly hurt. The front four is still strong, however, and could keep the Pack in some close games. The good people of Green Bay should not expect miracles from Starr. He says simply, "We have a big task in front of us."
Not as big as the one Coach Rick Forzano faces at Detroit. After six straight seconds in the division, the Lions' motto this year is "Now to Win." It should read "Second is Good Enough."
What offense Detroit was able to generate last year rested largely in the hands of Ron Jessie, who snared 54 passes for 761 yards and three TDs. Jessie made a paltry $16,000 a year. "They treated me like a damn slave," he says. So he played out his option and went to the Rams. The Lions are getting only a draft choice in return, Cullen Bryant—Pete Rozelle's compensation player—having floated in and out of their grasp. Dennis Franklin, who played quarterback for Michigan, is being given a shot as Jessie's replacement.
Bill Munson is recovering from injuries, so he and Greg Landry will share the quarterback duty. There wasn't a single 100-yard rushing game last year from a Lion back-field that ranked 24th in the league, and that situation isn't likely to improve because Steve Owens is sidelined with a bad knee. All-Pro Center Ed Flanagan also went West, and his replacement, Guy Dennis, walked out of camp in August. The only bright spots on the offense are Charlie Sanders at tight end and Placekicker Errol Mann, who calls himself a "conventional, old cloddy kicker" but scored 92 points in 1974. Forzano has essentially the same defense that ranked 12th in the NFC, with the secondary being its strongest element. Detroit won six of its seven games by five points or less. Some of those will be going the other way this year.
Placidly sitting atop the Central Division is staid old Minnesota. Staid? "We are not an emotional team," says Head Coach Bud Grant. He doesn't give his players pep talks, he just gives them the football. Old? The defensive line averages 32, but anyone who wants to tell Carl Eller or Alan Page they're too old for football isn't playing with a full deck. "Where we've got age, we've got quality depth," says Grant. He's right. The Vikings' first draft pick was 242-pound Defensive End Mark Mullaney, who will eventually replace 37-year-old Jim Marshall.
Fran Tarkenton is 35. Is it tough to quarterback at that age? "Sure, it's a grind," Tarkenton says. "I was exhausted after the Super Bowl, but a month later I was ready to play." Fran has a two-year contract and a chance to break four of Unitas' records. Naw, he's not too old.
The offensive linemen are all under 30, with the exception of Center Mick Tingelhoff. Grant has a backup, John Henry Ward, all ready. And behind them there's Chuck Foreman, who gained 777 yards rushing and snagged 53 passes for 586 more. Foreman is 24. So what if Wide Receiver John Gilliam has gone? He was fifth on the team in receiving last year and Sam McCullum (19.7 yards per reception) should do even better than that when he recovers from a shoulder separation. Wait, there is one problem. Fred Cox. He's 36 years old and last year missed 18% of his extra points and 62% of his field-goal attempts from 30 yards and out.
But the Vikings have the best regular-season record in their conference (.743) since the 1970 merger and have 21 starters back from a 10-4 near-Super year. Only two teams on Minnesota's schedule were over .500 last season. No, the Vikings still haven't won the Super Bowl. Something to shoot for. Sure, they're old. So is good whiskey.