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At the first CINCINNATI BENGALS' press conference after Sam Wyche was named to succeed Forrest Gregg as head coach, Paul Brown announced that Wyche would have a free hand in choosing his assistants. Then Brown named three holdovers for him. The football world giggled. Some free hand.
Wyche, who was Bill Walsh's first lieutenant when the 49er offense was taking the league by storm, says no problem. He would have kept them anyway. He says everything is peaceful within the organization, which is what a working man is supposed to say. But is it really? The offense lost a dimension last year when Brown fired the coordinator, Lindy Infante, who had accepted a future USFL job, and that was probably the biggest thing that drove Gregg to Green Bay—plus, of course, the fact that five Bengal vets were headed for the USFL. Offensive thinking won't be a problem, though. Wyche will take charge of that himself. The departed vets? Well, the Browns, Paul and assistant G.M. Mike, won't get into a dollar war with the USFL. That's life. There's still enough holdover talent from the '82 Super Bowl team to keep the Bengals healthy.
Too many people, including yours truly, have made a big thing of the Bengals' stinginess. Their top draft choice, Ricky Hunley, projected as a starting inside linebacker, was a holdout, but their two other No. 1s—defensive tackle Pete Koch and 300-pound guard Brian Blados—were signed. Quarterback Boomer Esiason got the richest contract for a second-round pick in history (a reported $2,375 million for five years).
In his first preseason game, against the Jets, Boomer looked like the steal of the draft—9 for 10 and two TDs, good movement, good head. He was upset about not going in the first round, but cheer up, Boomer, you're in the best situation a young quarterback can be in. You're playing for a coach who's an ex-QB; you've got a great vet to learn from, Kenny Anderson; the Bengals have a fine offensive line; and you're getting plenty of dough. What could be better?
The big off-season trade with San Diego swapped two runners who were unhappy with their clubs, Pete Johnson and James Brooks. As Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union said, "The Chargers traded a little griper for a big griper. They'd rather have the big one." The Bengals feel otherwise. Brooks gives them more flash and dash. The offense isn't so locked in. The defense? Well, it led the NFL last year.
He's No. 19 for the PITTSBURGH STEELERS. He's bright-eyed and eager to learn. He's got the arm and he's got the legs and he was the youngest quarterback ever to start in the Super Bowl. David Woodley is a fifth-year pro, and he's only 25 years old. Only 25? Must be a misprint. Check it again.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Don Shula gave up on him in Miami, and Shoes knows his QBs. O.K., you say, Dan Marino burst onto the Dolphins' scene like a flaming rocket, and there's room for only one young quarterback star on a sensible ball club. Well, that's the way the Steelers figure it, because if they ever intend to progress further than the first round of the playoffs, they'd better bring their pass-catch game up to date.
In the mid-70s they won two Super Bowls with defense, running and a young Terry Bradshaw. Then the league switched eras on them, so the Steelers went big-play, Bradshaw throwing to a pair of All-Pro wideouts, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, and won two more Super Bowls. See, it isn't so hard to play this game, is it?
Gone now are Bradshaw and Swann. Stallworth caught only eight passes during an injury-plagued 1983 season. The Steelers made it into the playoffs with a battered and ever-changing offensive line, held together by the great play of center Mike Webster, and a quick-striking defense, again led by a throwback, inside linebacker Jack Lambert. But they had the NFL's second-worst passing attack.
They can't continue to do it with mirrors. Their offensive line is still a shambles. Their defense should be good again under new coordinator Tony Dungy, who's only 28, but if they don't want a repeat of the Raider blowout in their playoff game last year, they'd better learn how to fly with the rest of the hawks.