Yes, you've read it here twice already, but you're going to read it once more, and then I'll get off it: ball control and defense. The San Diego Chargers were at their best in '90 when they were mushing the ball along with the big guys, backs Rod Bernstine and Marion Butts. The Chargers were shaky when they had to put the ball in the air.
It figures. San Diego has huge, drive-blocking linemen who don't have the niftiest of feet; a young quarterback, Billy Joe Tolliver, who's still learning the game; and only one high-quality receiver, Anthony Miller. In a preseason game against the Rams, the Chargers decided they were going to try to establish the passing attack. So Tolliver threw 33 times in the first half, and the results were disastrous. San Diego was down 17-3 at halftime, and its offense looked like a baby elephant learning to fly. Now second-year pro John Friesz is the quarterback, on the strength of a 17-for-19 passing performance in the last preseason game.
All that could be overcome if the Charger defense were solid, but it's a streaky operation. It shows flair at times, behind such top-notch players as pass rusher Leslie O'Neal and cornerback Gill Byrd, but then it dies, particularly in nickel situations. Safety Stanley Richard was San Diego's first draft pick, and he should help, but the team has other concerns.
Owner Alex Spanos is a bang-the-shoes-on-the-table type: "Just win now and I don't care how you do it!" Coach Dan Henning's job is on the line. Two key performers, Butts and defensive end Lee Williams, said there was no way they would play for San Diego this year. Williams was traded, Butts held out the entire preseason before reporting Monday.
The story of the Denver Broncos' off-season was that the coach and the quarterback weren't getting along. So this year Dan Reeves has given John Elway freedom to call his own plays. So far, there has been no noticeable difference in an offense that once was big league but now is ordinary. The preseason produced one touchdown in the Broncos' first three games. Maybe next year at this time we'll be reading something like this: " John Elway, freed of the play-calling responsibilities that bogged him down last year...."
One other thing. In the Broncos' preseason loss to the 49ers, Elway's receivers gave him absolutely no help. Four drops, no tough catches. The Amigos are a myth.
Last year, as the Broncos fell from the Super Bowl to 5-11, the defense crumbled. They point to injuries. This year Denver made linebacker Mike Croel of Nebraska the fourth pick in the draft, but he was a late signee. The exciting rookie has been another Cornhusker, eighth-rounder Kenny Walker—he's only the second deaf player to play in the NFL—an undersized 246-pound defensive end who can really get after the passer.
A Soviet sprint coach came up with the idea of attaching small parachutes to the athletes' backs to increase their speed by adding resistance while they run. The Broncos have tried the chutes. So far no world records.
People keep predicting the big slide for the Seattle Seahawks, but somehow they are always fighting for at least a wild-card spot in December. Quarterback Dave Krieg would seem to be replaceable, but last year he took every snap. Stories have appeared about how the Seahawks will have to do something about their aging defensive line, but last season the threesome of Jacob Green, Joe Nash and Jeff Bryant remained intact for the ninth straight year. Now it looks as if last year's first-round pick, Cortez Kennedy, is ready to make his mark. But Green, the elder statesman at 34, still had his most productive sack season since '85, with 12�.
You write the Seahawks off and they keep chugging along, stealing some games, blowing others. One note: Their first-round pick, 6'8", 243-pound Dan McGwire of San Diego State, was described as the unsackable quarterback. In Seattle's preseason opener, the Cardinals hit him. He went down.