- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On offense, the Steelers have an eminently interchangeable lot of guards, tackles, centers and tight ends. All are versatile. Mike Webster and Jim Clack can play either center or guard, and often do. Gerry Mullins, nominally a guard, plays tackle and tight end as well. Larry Brown, the 245-pound tight end, moved in at tackle at times last year, and this year he's there permanently. His old position is now filled by 260-pound Bennie Cunningham, whose very bulk provides a screen for passes thrown his way. Quarterback and running back are sound, with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier starting, and Mike Kruczek, Reggie Harrison and Jack Deloplaine backing up. The most impressive rookie is Laverne Smith of Kansas, who broke all of Gale Sayers' and John Riggins' Jayhawk rushing records. Lynn Swann leads a deep wide-receiver corps.
The Cleveland Browns made a remarkable turnaround last season, ending up with a 9-5 record after going 3-11 the previous year. Forrest Gregg won AFC Coach of the Year honors from the AP for the feat. Yet the achievement was dubious because last year Cleveland had a soft schedule—teams like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and, in its own division, Houston twice.
This year Cleveland must face reality. The first four games are against the Bengals (who have whupped them four times running), New England, the Steelers and world-champion Oakland, and Defensive Tackle Jerry Sherk, who may be the best in the NFL, will miss all four because of a knee injury. Later come the Bengals and the Steelers again and Los Angeles. With luck, the Browns will go 7-7.
That's not to say, however, that Gregg has made no improvements. He was smart to recognize the talent of Brian Sipe at quarterback, though he had little choice after starter Mike Phipps was hurt in last season's opener. Phipps has been traded to Chicago, giving Sipe a free rein. He has talented targets in Paul Warfield (who says he is playing the last of a sterling 14 seasons), Reggie Rucker and Tight End Oscar Roan.
Running Back Greg Pruitt, the mighty mite from Oklahoma, got his second 1,000-yard season in a row last year and is one of the most exciting runners in the NFL. But Pruitt is injury-prone and there's not much behind him.
On defense, the Browns' line will be woeful until Sherk returns, while their linebacking is merely adequate and the secondary has yet to distinguish itself. Moreover, Cleveland also got no help from the draft, in contrast to division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Browns' special teams are inadequate, too, the punting being particularly lackluster. Put it all together and it adds up to third place.
Since 1970, the Houston Oilers have hired and fired four head coaches, four general managers, six personnel directors, 11 scouts, 23 assistant coaches, three publicity directors, three team photographers, three trainers and two ticket managers. During that period, they have had exactly one winning season. Unfortunately, this year promises much more of the former.
Houston has no offense. Last year, only the Seattle Sea-hawks had a weaker running game. After a hope-inspiring 10-4 season in 1975, the Oilers crashed to 5-9 in 1976, and Head Coach Bum Phillips knows that this year he must win or walk. He'll probably walk.
Recognizing the need for points and yardage, Houston used 10 of its 14 draft choices to pick offensive players, but only four have become starters, including top drafts Morris Towns and George Reihner on the offensive line. At the end of last season, 23 of the team's 43-man roster had been signed as free agents.