- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Nick Buoniconti's last-minute return from retirement means that the division will have one "name" player working in the middle. At the same time, Shula's admission that he needs a player he had previously talked into retirement and the television booth means Miami's defense is thin. Buoniconti works with second-year man Steve Towle, who played both on the outside and in the middle in 1975 and made a Dolphin-record 164 tackles.
Twice discarded by divisional rivals ( New England and Buffalo), Jim Cheyunski replaced Mike Curtis in the Baltimore middle after the Colts lost four of their first five games. Baltimore promptly ran off a nine-game winning streak and won the division title from the Dolphins. However, Cheyunski still seems troubled by a balky knee; he obviously lacked mobility and pursuit throughout the exhibition season. Buffalo did not replace Cheyunski a year ago because the penurious Bills failed to sign Bob Nelson, their second-round draft choice from Nebraska, until almost the opening gun. Then Nelson injured a leg and played spectator the rest of the year. Penn State rookie Greg Buttle may be the best man for New York. New England uses four linebackers behind its three-man front, but Steve Nelson plays opposite the strong side—and does it so well that he was voted the Patriots' MVP in 1975.
Manny Fernandez, Bob Heinz, Doug Swift, Dick Anderson, Mike Kolen, Jake Scott. For reasons of health, retirement or discontent, they don't start for the Dolphins anymore. But don't worry about Miami's defense. Shula has located another bunch of No-Names. Randy Crowder has replaced Fernandez (knee and shoulder injuries) at tackle alongside Don Reese, while No. 1 draft choice Larry Gordon joins the linebacking corps and Barry Hill and Jeris White add youth to the secondary.
In Baltimore, the Colts spent the off-season trying to come up with a name for their front four. "Sack Pack" was one suggestion, because John Dutton. Freddy Cook, Mike Barnes and Joe Ehrmann helped the Colts make an NFL-high 59 sacks in 1975. Thanks in part to the pressure they applied on opposing quarterbacks, the Colts picked off 29 passes, second-best in the NFL last season, with Outside Linebacker Stan White intercepting eight, a record for linebackers. Still, the Colts will again need outstanding seasons from Corner-back Lloyd Mumphord and Safety Jackie Wallace. And with starter Tom MacLeod out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, they now need linebacker help.
New England had three first-round selections and used two of them to bolster a sagging defense. Arizona State's Mike Haynes starts at cornerback, and Ohio State's Tim Fox moves in at free safety. Steve Nelson and Sam Hunt are superior linebackers and if down linemen Julius Adams, Arthur Moore and Sugar-Bear Hamilton stay healthy. New England's fickle fans will stop criticizing Fairbanks' stubborn insistence on a three-man front.
The joke around Buffalo is that O.J. demanded that trade just so he could get to run against the Bills' defense. Indeed. Buffalo ranked 24th among the NFL's 26 clubs in total defense in 1975. Line Coach Stan Jones and three of his charges—Pat Toomay, Walt Patulski and Earl Edwards—have departed, but the Bills have acquired moody End Sherman White from the Bengals. Top draft Mario Clark strengthens what was the worst secondary in football.
Paging Tackle Carl Barzilauskas! Like a lot of New York Jets, the 6'6", 280-pound Barzilauskas had a terrible 1975; he missed more tackles than he made, and he was regularly run over by hordes of blockers, all of whom were kind enough to reach down and help him to his feet. As a team, the Jets gave up 433 points, the most in the NFL by 54 points. There seems to be no noticeable improvement.