Bill Wade has had a tremendous exhibition season. Wade was a bit immature for pro football for a while, and none of the old, bold Rams considered him on a par with their nonpareils—Bob Water-field and Norm Van Brocklin. He now has three of the finest receivers in football to throw to in Del Shofner, Jim Phillips and Jon Arnett; and Ollie Matson, who cost the Rams nine players, is an adequate receiver. If Wade's early foot is indicative of his 1959 performance, the Rams could mount a passing attack second to none.
Matson is one of the finest runners who ever pulled on a pair of cleats. He's 29 now, and the years may have stolen a step or two from him. Arnett is one of the most exciting runners of our time, and in Tom Wilson the Rams have a runner who has been the most grievously overlooked man in the business for a couple of years.
For the last few years Gillman has traded off the secondary defenders most likely to succeed in view of their experience. This year he retains the entire defensive secondary. The Ram pass defense should improve. The linebackers leave a little to be desired—but not too much.
Most players and coaches in the Western Conference agree that Linebacker Les Richter is overrated. He's helped out by All-Pro End Gene Brito and now the Ram line looks a little better. You can't afford to give away first downs on third and three—even with the Ram offense.
With Wade throwing very well and with some of the best running backs in football, the Rams figure to be an impressive offensive machine. But you have to take the ball away from the opposition before you can utilize an offense. The Rams, long lacking an adequate defense, may be better able to cut off the long pass this year, but it's the short pass which piles up the first downs and retains the ball. The Rams can run and throw, but the short pass defense must measure up before they can go all the way.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
COACH: HOWARD HICKEY
1958 RECORD: W 6, L 6, 4TH
1959 EXHIBITIONS: W 2, L 4
When Red Hickey played end for the Los Angeles Rams, he never heard a footstep. He cared little what happened after he caught the ball. He has instilled the same disregard for danger in the 49er receivers. R. C. Owens, Clyde Connor and Billy Wilson are all first-rate receivers, and old, bald Y. A. Tittle ranks with the best throwers in the league. He's backed up by John Brodie, and either of them can pass you out of the park if they have time to throw. In other words, pass protection, for the 49ers, is of the essence.
Age goes well before beauty in the backfield. Joe Perry is an elderly fullback. Hugh McElhenny has been around a long time. Old as they are they provide the 49ers with a fine one-two combination.
Hickey, desperate for someone who can knock down a pass, has two rookies in his secondary and one at linebacker. There's a saying in the league that a rookie defensive halfback costs a touchdown a game. But these rookies—Backs Eddie Dove and Dave Baker and Linebacker Bob Harrison—are exceptional.