Excited by the prospect that Don Shula will overtake George Halas as the NFL's winningest coach sometime this season, many people are picking the MIAMI DOLPHINS to be the AFC champion. It could happen, but one thing bothers me about this team: the offensive line. Dan Marino suffered 28 sacks last year, the most of his career. Left tackle Richmond Webb, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons, slipped badly toward the end of '92. Right guard Harry Galbreath, who never made the Pro Bowl but should have, left as a free agent. To run the O-line, Shula brought in a whip-cracker, Kim Helton, to relieve 67-year-old John Sandusky, a more laid-back type. Then in May, Helton left for the head coaching job at the University of Houston and back came Sandusky.
Adding to Marino's woes last year was the decline of the wideout Marks brothers, Clayton and Duper. Now both are gone, and the new guys are ex-Patriot Irving Fryar, who had a terrific camp, and ex-Giant Mark Ingram. The running game was nowhere last season, but top rookie Terry Kirby is expected to change that. He will line up behind ex-Eagle fullback Keith Byars, a fine possession receiver, if not the blocker Tony Paige was.
In '92, when the offense started having difficulties, the defense got going, which is why Miami won the division. Coordinator Tom Olivadotti's style is a kind of lay-back zone, but he will have so many action guys around that he will probably switch out of necessity. Linebacker Bryan Cox had a sensational '92 as a pass rusher and relentless pursuer, rookie Marco Coleman was a force at defensive end, and both cornerback Troy Vincent and free safety Louis Oliver are Pro Bowl caliber. And middle linebacker John Offerdahl is the glue that holds it all together.
I like the Dolphins to repeat as AFC East champs. I'm just not sure about that next step.
Every year it gets a bit harder for the BUFFALO BILLS to make the Super Bowl. And it gets even worse once they're in it. After three straight losses the Bills are sick of answering questions about their psyches, and their answers follow a pattern: Wouldn't the Tampa Bays of this world like to be where we are?
Well, of course. The great talent machine put together by Bill Polian and Bob Ferguson still exists—although both those gentlemen are gone now. And how do you keep a team loaded with stars such as Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Kent Hull, Jim Richter and Darryl Talley from repeating?
You can try to stir a controversy. The popular opinion is that Kelly's concentration was oil last year, as seen by his off-day in the Super Bowl. Hey, he has been through all this before, and now, seven pounds lighter, he's vowing to silence the critics—again.
You can break up the team. Off went free-agent left tackle Will Wolford to Indianapolis and inside linebackers Shane Conlan and Carlton Bailey to the Rams and the Giants, respectively. How serious is this? Wolford is a real loss. Premium left tackles are the NFL's scarcest commodity. The linebacker situation should sort itself out with Bennett returning to the outside and Marvcus Patton and Mark Maddox lining up inside, behind one emerging superstar, nosetackle Jeff Wright, and in front of another one, Pro Bowl strong safety Henry Jones.
The big question remains: How damaging is the lingering memory of those three straight Super Bowl losses, plus the ongoing abuse? When I get my degree in psychiatry I'll let you know. Until then, I'll pick the Bills to be right in the thick of it.
Just as the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS were making all the right moves, this Jeff George thing had to hit. Fed up with the fans and the media, George stayed home for most of the summer, and while he was away the T-shirt makers went to work. One T-shirt showed a picture of George and Elvis with the line IF YOU'VE SEEN ONE OF THESE GUYS, CALL THE INDIANAPOLIS POLICE. Another showed George in a sandbox: MY MOMMY WON'T LET ME GO TO CAMP. Local liquor stores featured Jeff George whine.