The No. 2 problem is the offensive line. Last year Ron Meyer wanted massive specimens, so the linemen lived in the weight room. The Patriots' pass blockers looked like elephants chasing mice. New England quarterbacks, meanwhile, hit the canvas 66 times, their fine second-year man, Tony Eason, going down 60 times. He aged fast.
The linemen have trimmed down this year. Rod Humenuik was imported from Kansas City to teach them clever techniques. Head coach Ray Berry, who succeeded Meyer last October, also imported Les Steckel, who was a gifted young receiver coach at Minnesota before his 1984 debacle as the Vikes' head man. Berry himself has taken a big role in attempting to convince wideouts Stanley Morgan and Irving Fryar they can be the best in the game by trying to mold them in his own all-pro image.
The NEW YORK JETS' practice is winding down. The defensive linemen are running gassers, 40-yard sprints. The pads are off, their T shirts are soaked with sweat. They are agonizing, straining. Mark Gastineau, naked from the waist up, glides through the 40s in a sort of dreamlike trance. When the set is over, he's 20 yards ahead of the pack. In the pass-rush drill half an hour earlier, he beat his man 12 straight times. He looked as if he was going at half speed. Gastineau, the highest-paid defensive lineman in football (about $800,000 a year), will be at right end this year, in a new 3-4 alignment. Occasionally he'll pop up in strange places—the Fred Dean swing. Be great, say the Jets, just be great, because you're our pass rush, buddy. Gastineau had always played in a 4-3, but defensive end in a 3-4 is a different animal. No wide splits. Play in tight and square up against the run. The Rams' Jack Young-blood made the switch, and so must Gastineau. He says he has dedicated himself to it. He requested 500 pounds of weights be delivered to his room at camp so he could grunt and sweat between practices while everyone else was grabbing a snooze.
A great season from Gastineau is essential, because there is turmoil around him. In camp the Jets experimented with Lance Mehl, moving one of the game's finest outside linebackers to the inside. His place outside was taken—perhaps temporarily—by a 6'7", 255-pound end, Ron Faurot. Faurot had trouble rushing from a down position last year; how's he going to do it now? And pass coverage? "Well, he's no worse than anyone else," says linebacker coach Dan Radakovich. Joe Klecko is the nose man. In camp he had a sore hamstring, then a strained abdominal muscle, which might project an aggressive young second-year man, Tom Baldwin, into the picture. Marty Lyons, a natural tackle, has been switched to left end, a position he had trouble with as a rookie. Linebackers have been moved around, DBs, everyone on defense. It's part of a master scheme of the new coordinator, Bud Carson, and Bud's a guy with the skins on the wall—he coordinated the defenses of the Super Bowl Rams and Steelers. If it all works, the Jets are a playoff contender. If not, they're another 7-9 team.
Joe Walton, with time running out, has shaken up his coaching staff, bringing in new people, promoting an assistant. His offense works best when Freeman McNeil is running the ball and sputters when it's third and long. Wideout Al Toon, the No. 1 draft pick who was going to make Wesley Walker expendable, started his NFL career as a holdout. Then Lam Jones tore a tendon in his finger, and suddenly Walker was very much back in favor.
The INDIANAPOLIS COLTS were last in the NFL in passing last year. So the new coach, replacing Frank Kush, is Rod Dowhower, whose St. Louis passing game topped the NFC.
Most observers thought that Dowhower, in addition to jazzing up the passing game, would draft a bunch of fancy rookies to make it go. The defense wasn't a disaster. Leo Wisniewski was a fine middle guard (although he may be out for the season with a knee injury), Johnie Cooks blossomed as an outside linebacker and Barry Krauss had a terrific year as an inside backer. Dowhower crossed them up. When you're playing in the Marino division you need defense, so his first four picks were defensive guys, but the Colts didn't hurry to sign them. Chalk up another one for Bob Irsay. They say he made a ton of money in his first season in the new town last year, but why should he spend it frivolously, like on players?
Buffalo Bills coach Kay Stephenson will be looking for a new job if last year's 2-14 doesn't change dramatically. How has this club sunk so low? One ailment is No. 1 draftitis. When the Bills traded Tony Hunter in July, that made four of their last 12 No. 1s they have dealt. Two they never signed. Only two developed as expected—wideout Jerry Butler and last year's pick, halfback Greg Bell—so maybe things are improving. This season's top pick, defensive end Bruce Smith, is slated for Ken Johnson's spot on the right side even though Johnson led the Bills' linemen in sacks with 3½. That's right, 3½.
Pass rush is obviously one problem area. Another was quarterback, but now the Bills have Vince Ferragamo from the Rams. Let's reserve judgment on that trade until Vince gets a taste of those icy winds that come swirling down from Canada late in the season.
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