When a weak team, such as NEW YORK, starts getting injuries, it turns into a snowball kind of thing. You're playing next to a new guy, so maybe you try to cover for him, and you find yourself in unfamiliar situations, so you get hurt, too. When the Giants had tallied up the casualty reports from 1980, they found they had to use the injured reserve list 35 times, that 10 players had knee operations, and that 19 of the original 45 who dressed for the opener were gone at the end of the season. Almost half the roster this year carries the notation, "Coming back from a——-injury."
On this team one unit must carry the load—the linebackers. A fine bunch. Best in the NFL. Brad Van Pelt, Harry Carson, either Brian Kelley or Frank Marion, and rookie Lawrence Taylor of North Carolina, the second player picked in the draft, a blitzing terror. Elsewhere, the Giants are loaded with question marks; with "pleasant surprises," such as rookie Nose Guard Bill Neill, a fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh, and castoff 49er Center Ernie Hughes; with disappointments and with wait-and-sees.
There's still a running psychodrama between Coach Ray Perkins and his quarterback, Phil Simms. Will he praise him today, folks, or rip him? Stay tuned. But, given the tools, these two can mastermind a dazzling aerial show, as Dallas found out last year.
There was this comment of Bear Bryant's that followed ST. LOUIS rookie Linebacker E.J. Junior into the draft—something to the effect that "We tried to get him to play inside at Alabama, but he couldn't." The Cards drafted E.J. on the first round anyway, and now he's playing inside linebacker for them, and everybody's happy with the way he has been going after people. And the Bear says he really meant "inside as a safetyman." Yeah, right. Or maybe inside a Frigidaire, or a Volkswagen.
The fact is, if you finish low enough in the standings every year, you get a crack at some pretty fair people in the draft—and St. Louis has now had three good drafts in a row. The top pick in 79, Running Back Ottis Anderson, has had two straight 1,000-yard seasons. The laws of infiltration say that enough of those good drafts eventually will boost the old won-lost. But when?
The fanciest-looking youngster in camp, next to Junior, was Quarterback Neil Lomax of Portland State. In one of those mysterious draft-day developments, his stock suddenly plummeted from high-first round to early-second round, and the Cards stole him. Lomax isn't ready to replace the venerable Jim Hart yet, but if things get off to a bad start, you could see a push to get him in there to juice up a pass offense that finished fourth from last in the NFL last year. A crippled offensive line was one reason. Now it's healthy, but Wide Receiver Mel Gray is down for at least a month with a separated shoulder.