- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The Packers still need players. Defensive end Ezra Johnson has a bad back. Safetyman Mike McCoy tore a quadriceps muscle in his left leg and is out for the season. No. 1 draft choice Alphonso Carreker, a 270-pound defensive end, twisted a knee in camp, slowing his progress. Two other rookies will help more. Auburn defensive end Donnie Humphrey (third-round choice) and Pitt free safety Tom Flynn (fifth-round). Flynn was so impressive that he was plopped into the starting unit right away.
In 1983 the Packers made a club-record $1.9 million profit, yet they let their best defensive lineman, Mike Butler, and valuable backup tight end Gary Lewis slip away to the USFL. Coming from Cincinnati, Gregg knew all about that kind of policy, and this year the front office got everybody signed. Here's a name for the future book: quarterback Randy Wright, sixth-round pick from Wisconsin. Remember, you heard it here first.
The DETROIT LIONS were 1-4 after five games last year. The Rams had just beaten them, and Eric Dickerson had run for 199 yards. "See you at the cemetery," was Lion coach Monte Clark's postgame comment. Owner Bill Ford is known for firing unsuccessful coaches.
But the next Sunday Ford went to the pregame breakfast with the players, told them to win it for Monte, or something, and they went out and put it to the Packers, 38-14. The surge carried them through the regular season and into the playoffs, where they came five seconds and one field goal short of beating the 49ers and advancing to the NFC championship. Eddie Murray missed a 43-yarder at the end, and a classic sideline shot showed Clark, his hands clasped in prayer, as the kick sailed wide.
Now, with a solid foundation to build on, the Lions should be a lock for the NFC Central, where a 9-7 record is big thunder, right? But here's the flip side: It's a space game nowadays. The quarterback position has taken on an exaggerated importance. And in four years Eric Hippie hasn't progressed much.
It could be the system. Hippie's a freewheeling type of guy with a powerful gun, but the Lions have been throwing more to their backs. Their leading receiver was 230-pound fullback James Jones, who ranked only 49th among NFL pass catchers. Next was halfback Billy Sims. The Lions have capable wideouts—Leonard Thompson, Jeff Chadwick and former first-round draft choice Mark Nichols, if he ever gets his routes figured out—but somehow these guys have never gotten in sync with the quarterback.
Gary Danielson, with less physical ability but more savvy than Hippie, has been the bailout man, and the situation won't change. In six years Clark has had three offensive coordinators: Bob Schnelker, who has been orchestrating the Green Bay show for the last two years; Ted Marchibroda, now with Philadelphia; and this year Bill Nelsen, whose last port of call was Tampa Bay. Maybe Nelsen will let Hippie open up a bit more. Maybe the top two draft choices, tight end David Lewis and wideout Pete Mandley, will add more zip. Some things never change, though. Five veterans, each with moderate contracts, were camp holdouts. The front office could use a little zip, too.
Ten-hutt! MINNESOTA VIKINGS front and center! First general order: Be prepared to occupy territory stretching from the headwaters of the upper Mississippi River down through Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with strike-force potential aimed at the Florida Gulf Coast. Put personal goals above monetary considerations; do not let the knowledge that the enemy is better paid than you are dim your will to fight. Do not be distracted by such passive endeavors as fishing during non-duty hours. Avoid cheerleaders; we want no war brides!
Bud Grant has resigned his commission. Les Steckel, former receiver coach, former Marine Corps combat lieutenant, is in command. "I've led 210 Marines and 80 Vietnamese soldiers into combat," he says, "so don't talk to me about being a head coach." Ah, but has he led 310-pound guards into Tampa Bay?
Steckel has done a "Column right, maaarch!" from the Grant plan of battle, spicing the first day of camp with a grueling, eight-event Ironman competition. The wounded: defensive end Mark Mullaney, pulled hamstring; kicker Benny Ricardo, ditto. He plans to start every regular-season practice with 45 minutes of conditioning drills.