- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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On paper the draft looked terrific; Bengal drafts always do. But signing people can be difficult. Oh they got their second No. 1 pick all right, linebacker Emanuel King, a bargain at $1.175 million for four years, but their top guy, wideout Eddie Brown, didn't come as cheaply. He was a camp holdout for more than two weeks, so all plans to line him up with Collinsworth and terrorize opposing cornerbacks had to be postponed. The offensive line is still big league, and 265-pound fullback Larry Kinnebrew is one of the NFL's more terrifying runners. King eventually might help a defense that slipped from first to 13th last year when it lost Hank Bullough, the coordinator.
For the CLEVELAND BROWNS it's the Ernie and Bernie show. Ernie Accorsi, the general manager, showed that Al Davis isn't the only football executive whose thinking is one step ahead of the pack. Ernie's innovation was trading regular draft choices for picks in the supplemental draft designed for special-situation guys and USFL players, trading goods at full retail markup for discounted merchandise. It got the Browns a productive runner from the L.A. Express, Kevin Mack, and, of course, Bernie Kosar, the quarterback of the future and a drawing card who means about 5,000 extra season tickets from his hometown Boardman, Ohio area. Without trading, Ernie picked up the Bandits' second team All-USFL tackle, Dan Fike, a 6'7", 280-pounder who'll step into Doug Dieken's old spot on the left side.
They low-keyed it with Kosar in training camp, trying to avoid the 1983 John Elway circus atmosphere in Denver, and assigned him a backup role to ex-Lion Gary Danielson, but if things aren't going right at about midseason, the kid could be in there. Actually, the Browns traded Pro Bowl linebacker Chip Banks for the Kosar rights, but the deal became a draft choice when Banks refused to report. How could the Browns break up the best linebacking corps in football, people asked. Well, they were No. 2 in the NFL in defense last year and still finished at 5-11. The offense was nowhere. Once you got by Ozzie Newsome, the AFC's top pass catcher, the next-highest Brown receiver ranked 78th in the league.
The running attack could shape up if top draft pick Greg Allen shows some of his pre—knee-injury flash. Coach Marty Schottenheimer loves Earnest Byner, 215 pounds and dirt tough. The Browns' schedule is too vicious, the offense too unsettled for there to be much improvement, but at least the team is showing some smarts.
Hey, guess what? The HOUSTON OILERS didn't draft an offensive lineman with their top pick, as they had for three straight years. They didn't even take an offensive player, as they had the last five. Their two first-round choices were a defensive end, Ray Childress, and a cornerback, Richard Johnson. That's the good news. The bad news is that they were unsigned entering the exhibition season, so a defense that has been no better than 22nd in the NFL in the four years since Bum Phillips left probably won't be much better, at least not in the early going. And that's exactly where the Oilers need all their muscle, because the first five weeks of the schedule are the most brutal in the NFL—bringing Miami, Washington, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Denver as opponents.
Like a crazy uncle who's locked up in the attic, the Oilers' defense is never mentioned. Instead we hear about that great, massive offensive line, led by Pro Bowl guard Mike Munchak, about the blossoming of Warren Moon now that he has his legs under him (the Oilers even hired his Edmonton offensive coordinator, Joe Faragalli, this year), and about the runners who will make everyone forget Earl Campbell.
These last are Butch Woolfolk, who showed great zip in the Hall of Fame game when he was proving himself against the New York Giants, the team that gave up on him, and Mike Rozier, who has a chance to be the only player in history to rush for 1,000 yards twice in the same calendar year, having gained his 1,361 yards for the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL. That's assuming his legs and his body hold up. He'll also have made some of the biggest money in the shortest period of time, a little more than $3 million in two years, counting his USFL and Oiler paychecks. It's all very pretty, but the Oilers need those defensive rookies in top form or they'll be looking at a quick 0-5, with a very long season to follow.
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