- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Don't mess with Dallas' Roger Staubach! Long thought to be a stick in the mud, Staubach turned Muhammad Ali at training camp and punched out a unanimous decision over Clint Longley. "Remember," Staubach says, "I've got five years of Navy combat training that I haven't used yet." On the field Staubach rattles defenses with his versatility: he threw 17 touchdown passes and also ran with the ball 55 times for an average gain of almost six yards. What makes Staubach doubly effective is the Cowboys' shotgun-style setup for certain plays; in fact, Staubach's only problem with the shotgun has been Cowboy Center John Fitzgerald's tendency to bounce the football back to him rather than airmail it.
With burners Terry Metcalf and Mel Gray at his disposal, Jim Hart specializes in the home-run ball for St. Louis: nine of his 19 touchdown passes in 1975 came on plays that covered more than 30 yards. But Hart also threw 19 interceptions. He blames only himself, claiming that too often he threw the ball prematurely because he was so conscious of his line's attempt to set a record for fewest sacks. In the end, Hart was sacked six times but the Cardinals only tied the record.
Washington's Bill Kilmer, in his 15th NFL season, threw a career-high 23 touchdown passes to help the 1975 Redskins camouflage their inept running attack. New York's Craig Morton was sacked a total of 49 times a year ago, but now New Jersey's Craig Morton works behind a more experienced and stronger line, featuring Guard John Hicks and Tackle Tom Mullen, and has Larry Csonka (see Newcomer) available for protection. New Philadelphia Coach Dick Vermeil has a five-year contract, so he plans to sink or swim with inexperienced Mike Boryla. This year, at least, it will be glub, glub, glub for the Eagles.
Desperate for running backs to work with Mike Thomas, last season's rookie find who gained 919 yards, the Redskins paid dearly for free agents John Riggins, who gained 1,000 yards for the Jets, and Calvin Hill, a 1,000-yard man with Dallas in 1972 and 1973. They also purchased former Cowboy Tight End Jean Fugett. What the Redskins need now is help—or health—up front. Injuries have crippled the line the last two seasons. Guard is particularly worrisome. Walt Sweeney (knee) is already lost for the season. Terry Hermeling moves over from tackle, but he missed all of 1974 and part of 1975 with a bad knee. George Allen obtained Ron Saul from Houston, but he has been injured in four of his six pro years. Finally, Paul Laaveg wrecked his knee during preseason. Still, Allen hopes to run Thomas, Riggins and Hill at least 60% of the time, partly because Charley Taylor, the NFL's alltime leading receiver, will be sidelined until November with a shoulder dislocation and fracture.
"For some reason, everyone thinks we throw the ball all the time," says St. Louis Coach Don Coryell. "We don't." In fact, working behind the best line in the NFC (Center Tom Banks, Right Guard Conrad Dobler and Right Tackle Dan Dierdorf started side by side in the Pro Bowl), Jim Otis rushed for an NFC-high 1,076 yards and Terry Metcalf (see Key Player) for 816 more as the Cardinals kept defenses alert by running the ball six plays out of 10. When the defenses moved up, Hart unloosed his bombs to Metcalf and Gray; 18 of Gray's 28 career touchdowns have been on plays of more than 40 yards.
"This year our offense will carry the team while our new defensive players learn to play together," says Dallas Tackle Ralph Neely, who anchors the Cowboys' experienced line. Dallas has a bevy of runners, including Robert Newhouse (930 yards), Charles Young, Preston Pearson and free agents Ron Johnson and Duane Thomas. As Minnesota to its enduring sorrow remembers, Drew Pearson is a clutch deep receiver, and a healthy Billy Joe DuPree takes over for the departed Fugett at tight end. Backup Quarterback Danny White will replace Mitch Hoopes as the punter; he averaged 45.1 yards per punt in the WFL in 1975.
In a stretch of five games last season, the Giants had first and goal 11 times but scored just three field goals. That's nine points out of a possible 77. Hello, Larry Csonka! Rookie Gordon Bell of Michigan provides the Giants with the outside running speed they have always lacked. Philadelphia's new playbook is five inches thick and weighs some 18 pounds. Still, Boryla's best plays will be passes to Tight End Charlie Young, who signs autographs: "Charlie Young, 86. All-Pro."