- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Oh yes, just to make sure that Stabler came back to training camp in some kind of reasonable shape, the club shipped him a stationary bike, complete with fan, so he could stay cool. Veteran Stabler watchers say he looks better than ever, but they always say that until he throws his first interception.
New coach, Dan Henning. New assistants, notably Bob Fry (offensive line) and Dan Sekanovich (defensive line), who left the Jets to come south. Very productive draft, including the fellow Henning was praying he'd get, Alabama Defensive End Mike Pitts. Now the bad news. Three very important Falcons were contract holdouts—Pro Bowlers Mike Kenn at left tackle and R.C. Thielemann at right guard, plus Joel Williams, the sack specialist at linebacker. Williams was traded to Philly, but not before the three, collectively, had run up about $100,000 in fines at the new NFL scale of $1,000 a day. How did the Players Association ever let that one slip into the contract? With that trio in camp from the start, everything would have been neatly in place, but it's a tricky matter, keeping veterans happy while giving rookies million-dollar contracts to avoid an exodus to the USFL.
Henning's last post was offensive coordinator at Washington, where the attack worked smartly behind those big Hogs. His plans for '83—notably the one-back approach of Washington, with lots of motion and lots of sets (how many times have you heard that this year?)—make Kenn and Thielemann essential. William Andrews figures to be the setback. Gerald Riggs, who played in Andrews' shadow last year, will get a look as the "H back," or slot man. Henning says Quarterback Steve Bartkowski will roll out more and be a less stationary target—you won't mistake him for Joe Theismann, but he won't look like the Statue of Liberty, either. He'll still be throwing to the two Alfreds, Jackson and Jenkins.
In the past the majority of Atlanta's sacks have come from its 3-4, with small and active linebackers shooting in from odd angles. But Sekanovich has been a 4-3 coach, and the Falcons will go to a four-man rush more than they have in the past. Pitts could be a big man in that scheme. In the secondary, which always seems to receive its share of heat, second-round draft choice James Britt from LSU could start as a safetyman.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
How the Rams love to trade. You'd figure that coming from USC, John Robinson would low-key it for a while until he got the hang of it. I mean, all these years he didn't work deals with Penn State, a tailback for a linebacker.... But since Robinson took over in February, the Rams have been the tradingest team in the NFL. A trade put them in position to draft SMU Halfback Eric Dickerson high in the first round, and before the exhibition season was a week old they were telling people he's the greatest runner to wear a Ram uniform since Jon Arnett, forgetting Dick Bass and Lawrence McCutcheon. Then they unloaded running backs Wendell Tyler and Jewerl Thomas, figuring they're still well stocked. They switched cornerbacks, dealing Rod Perry to Detroit and picking up Eric Harris from Kansas City, and they got K.C. Quarterback Steve Fuller to serve as Vince Ferragamo's backup. Perry brought them Detroit Tight End David Hill, and they switched people in the defensive line, trading away Tackle Mike Fanning, who didn't project as a nose man in their new 3-4, and getting End Gary Jeter from the Giants. And they'll probably be picking up an offensive tackle to replace Irv Pankey, who's out for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon, just about as you're reading this.
But the question still remains, while Ferragamo is throwing those pretty rainbows and Dickerson is dodging and darting for yards, how are the Rams going to stop the opposition? Jack Youngblood, whose forte was always splitting out wide and swooping down on enemy passers from the 4-3, will now learn about life in the meat grinder as a 3-4 end, and the left one at that, the run-stopping side. Behind him at left linebacker is Mel Owens, as yet unproved, and behind him at cornerback is Kirk Collins, another green tomato. Nolan Cromwell fell off his All-Pro pace last season, and a switch at safety, sending Cromwell to strong and Johnnie Johnson to free, might be the logical move. Something's got to be done to rescue a defense that's forgotten how to defend, by land or air, and that gave up the most points per game (27.78) in the club's 37-year history.
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