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Granted, these guys might help—especially Lewis, who had a couple of devastating years with the Bucs—but the basic defect in the Charger defense that gave up the most passing yards in NFL history was a lack of speed. They just couldn't catch anybody. Unless they strap rockets to their players' shoes, that won't change.
What they have done, however, is change the concept. Gone is Jack Pardee and his 4-3. Newly arrived is Tampa Bay's Tom Bass and his 3-4, which had never even been heard of in San Diego. Defensive Tackle Louie Kelcher decided to retire when the needle wouldn't stop at 300 pounds, but he came back. The Chargers say they'll combine 3-4 and 4-3 concepts. Whatever that means.
San Diego should play the highest scoring games in the NFL, and its TV ratings will be way up there. Don Coryell's superstar offense will see to that—Dan Fouts throwing to the most prolific tight end in history, Kellen Winslow (202 catches in his first three seasons) or to Chandler or Jackson or the ageless Charlie Joiner or Chuck Muncie or little Jimmy Brooks, all of them popping out of an endless array of formations. Muncie, who's coming off an extensive drug rehab program, rushed for 19 touchdowns last year, tying an NFL record, and if his head isn't messed up, the sky's the limit.
Doomsayers point to the fact that three of Fouts's staunchest protectors, guards Doug Wilkerson and Ed White and Right Tackle Russ Washington, have all passed their 35th birthdays, but Coryell says that's no problem. They can still block with the best of them. Too bad they can't play defense, too.
Craig Morton arrived with the class of '65, which included Joe Namath, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. He was there while pro football changed from a passing game to a running game and back to a passing game. He saw, from the inside, the highs and lows of the Dallas organization. He went down with the sinking ship that was the Giants. He made it to one of the lifeboats and was hauled ashore in Denver, vowing that things would get better. Two weeks before his 35th birthday he quarterbacked the Broncos in Super Bowl XII, only to go under in a mass of interceptions. Poor old Craig. Had a great career. Too bad. Put a rose on his coffin.
Then Craig made a pact with the Devil. "Take life from my legs," he said, "and put it in my arm, and we've got a bargain." The results were amazing. The arm has never died. Year after year in training camp Morton has thrown the ball through walls. The Bronco coaches, Red Miller and now Dan Reeves, scratched their heads. Yep, he's our quarterback, all right. Where else are you going to find an arm like that?
Oops, the sacks. Morton was tackled 92 times from 1978 to 1980. In '81 he went down 54 times, the most in the NFL. The Broncos needed only a final victory over Chicago to win the AFC West last year, but the Bears blitzed their uncles, cousins and in-laws at Craig, and he went down five times and threw three interceptions. The title, the playoffs and everything were gone.
Now it's '82. The Broncos are talking playoffs. They've got a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Steve Watson, who came from nowhere (actually from Wilmington, Del.); a nifty little first-round draft choice, Halfback Gerald Willhite, who can scoot; and a line that's on the verge of a nervous breakdown ("Hey. Craig, how long do we have to hold our blocks?"). And there are no challengers to the 39-year-old Morton. Not Steve DeBerg, who isn't good enough. Not Mark Herrmann, who isn't experienced enough.
Denver has a defense with all the parts in place, but it will suffer greatly if there are any injuries. The defense led the league during the first half of '81, but it sagged badly when Left Cornerback Louis Wright was hurt at midseason. Linebackers Randy Gradishar, Tommy Jackson and Bob Swenson (an extended contract holdout in camp) are proud names, and the Broncos say that last year's No. 1 draft pick, Dennis Smith, will dazzle people as a strong safety this season. But the offensive line will see more blitzes than General Patton ever dreamed up. Reeves is hoping that come December, Craig Morton will still be vertical.