The Patriots last season suffered from a lack of consistent quarterbacking and a noteworthy inability to knock down long passes. The addition of Quarterback Babe Parilli should supplement the help provided by old Butch Songin, who led last week's 45-17 rout of Denver. But in their first league game against New York the Patriots showed they still need defensive backs who can prevent long completions. Coach LOU SABAN'S difficulties here could lessen as the season goes along, however. He patched up the Patriot secondary by picking up ex-Steeler defender Ron Hall; when the new unit begins to operate as a team, it probably will be much more effective. The Boston air attack, under the direction of Parilli, is improved by the development of Gino Cappelletti as a receiver; Cappelletti takes some of the pressure off Jim Colclough, the fastest of the Patriot pass catchers, who was double-teamed most of last year. The pass-protection blocking, weak in 1960, has been stiffened by the addition of Tackles John Miller (from Green Bay) and John Simerson (from Houston). Saban is still looking for one more good offensive guard. The Boston running game, hurt last season by the absence of Fullback Jim Crawford, out with pneumonia, and Ron Burton, out with two injured ankles, got off to a bad start this season when Crawford fractured a lumbar vertebra. His loss during the early games will deprive Boston of a power runner up the middle and will increase the pressure on speedsters Burton and Billy Lott.
This will be almost exactly the same team that finished first in the Eastern Division in 1960. The only significant addition has been at end, where the Oilers will have Willard Dewveall when he recovers from an injury. Dewveall played out his option with the Chicago Bears, then signed with Houston. Coach LOU RYMKUS has a powerful attack built around Billy Cannon, Dave Smith and Charley Tolar. Last year the ground game fell off when starting offensive Guards Bob Talamini and Jim McCanless were injured, but they are healthy now, and in preseason games the running was better than ever, aided by the strong blocking of Tackle Al Jamison. The passing attack, already best in the league, may be even better with George Blanda and Jackie Lee throwing to Bill Groman and Charley Hennigan, plus 6-foot-5 rookie Bob McLeod of Abilene Christian. Almost all of Rymkus' problems are on defense. In 1960 the Oilers had one of the best defenses against a rushing attack in the league, statistically, but that was because most teams in the AFL powered straight ahead into the Oiler line. The defense was then and probably is now vulnerable to sweeps; the line is slow and the retirement of Hugh Pitts and Al Witcher from the corps of linebackers weakened an already weak spot. In the deep secondary the Houston cornerbacks, Mike Johnston and Tony Banfield, did well coming up on runs last year but considerably less well defending against passes. The only real topflight defender is safety man Jim Norton. He needs help.
Coach BUSTER RAMSEY suffers from the most grievous lack in pro football. He does not have an adequate quarterback. Johnny Green, his starter, suffered a shoulder separation in practice, missed several weeks' work and will be rusty for the start of the season. Even Green's best is none too good. Although he throws a long pass well and accurately much of the time, he is erratic with shorter tosses and tends to overlook secondary receivers up close. Behind Green are Richie Lucas and Detroit's Warren Rabb. Lucas, despite a good second game, is still untested; Rabb has yet to work into the Bill offense. The Buffalo receivers—Tom Rychlec, Monte Crockett and Elbert Dubenion—are good enough when the Bill quarterbacks manage to get the ball to them. Two rookie linemen, Billy Shaw of Georgia Tech and Ken Rice of Auburn, have improved the pass-protection blocking. On the ground the Bills look much better, mostly because of the addition of Syracuse's Art Baker, who is a Jim Brown-type running back. Baker has power up the middle and speed enough for wide sweeps. He has a good deal to learn about pro blocking, however. The other Bill runners—Wray Carlton, Dubenion and Wilmer Fowler—give the team as strong a coterie of backs as there is in the AFL. On defense, the Bills are strong against rushing but may be in trouble against passes. They lack depth in linebackers and, more seriously, in defensive halfbacks. Only Jack Johnson returns uninjured from the pass-defending corps which intercepted 33 passes last year.
NEW YORK TITANS
Sammy Baugh's New York Titans set two records in the American Football League last season, both in the scoring column. They scored more points than any other team (382) and had the most points scored against them (399). While this made for extraordinarily busy afternoons for both Titan units, it left the club in second place in the Eastern Division, with seven wins and seven losses. Baugh has improved his defense this year: Junior Wren and Bert Rechichar, a couple of old hands from the NFL, add experience, and two rookies, Dainard Paulson and Dave Ames, provide speed in the secondary. Hubert Bobo and Jim Furey are expected to do a lot for the linebacking, and Proverb Jacobs (from the New York Giants) for the bench. Al Dorow, the Titan quarterback, comprises most of the Titan offense, throwing to receivers Don Maynard and Art Powell. The acquisition of Dick Christy and the continuing development of Fullback Bill Mathis should give the Titans a running game, something that was noticeably absent during their maiden season. Unfortunately, the Titans' Mike Hudock, one of the best blocking centers in the league, suffered a broken jaw in the club's first league game (a 21-20 victory over Boston) and probably will miss several games. This could open a gate for opposing linebackers. Baugh is still looking for an adequate punter, although his need is hardly an urgent one since the high-scoring Titan offense is seldom required to punt. The Titans, over-all, should be a stronger team this year.
Hank Stram, the coach of the Texans, was presented with a crop of rookies to go along with his regulars of 1960. Looking forward to a fine season, he seemed like one of the fortunate AFL coaches—until a few weeks ago. Then Abner Haynes, who may be the best all-round offensive back in the AFL, was injured. The loss of Haynes damages both the running and passing offensives. In their opener against the San Diego Chargers, the best team in the AFL, the Texans missed Haynes badly and lost 26-10. But Haynes will be back soon, and with him in the lineup the Texans are clearly the next best team in the new league. They have a powerful ground attack and an air offensive that is buoyant when Quarterback Cotton Davidson is having a good day. Cotton's good days, however—as reflected in 1960 statistics which placed Dallas first in rushing but next to last in passing—will have to be better this year. Jack Spikes is a good fullback and a talented place kicker, and the Texan ends—Chris Burford and Max Boydstun or Tony Romeo—are among the finest in the AFL. The offensive line gives the pass attack time to develop and clears the way for the runners. Defensively the Texans should be almost as strong as the Chargers. Their first four—Mel Branch and Paul Miller at end, Ray Collins and Paul Rochester at tackles—are mobile and intelligent defenders. The linebackers, headed by Sherrill Headrick and E. J. Holub, probably the league's top draftee this year, in reserve, could be the toughest combination in the AFL.
The Raiders, who finished third in the Western Division of the AFL last season, seem unlikely to improve on their standing in 1961, even under new Coach MARTY FELDMAN, who replaced Eddie Erdelatz on Monday. Any amount of reshuffling should prove ineffective, since the Raiders were able to sign very few of their 1961 draft choices. Last year the club had a good passing attack and little else. With defenses generally stronger in the league this season, the Raiders may not score by passes as often as they did in 1960. But a more immediate consideration is the woefully weak defensive unit. In the season's opener, the Houston Oilers, winning 55 to 0, set a league scoring record against Oakland as George Blanda enjoyed a pleasant afternoon throwing three touchdown passes through the Raider secondary. Conceding to Oakland its rather flimsy ground attack, the Oiler defense stifled the passing of Tom Flores and rookie Nick Papac. The Raiders picked up replacements for their ailing lines as the other clubs in both leagues cut down to league limits, and the team should improve as the new players begin to fit in. Although it is highly doubtful that the new Raider coach will be able to find enough good players to help significantly, additions like Tackle Volney Peters may keep the team ahead of Denver. Grave weakness in both the offensive and defensive line, an inept secondary pass defense and an offensive backfield that is quick but small mean Feldman has a long, grim season ahead.
Despite the fact that not a single player from the 1961 draft list of the Denver club appears on the team roster, Coach FRANK FILCHOCK may have a better team than the one that finished last in the Western Division in 1960. He has rebuilt the offensive line almost entirely, with only Ken Adamson and Carl Larpenter, both guards, returning. The development of George Herring as a second quarterback behind Frank Tripucka will give the Broncos unaccustomed depth at that position when Herring recovers from an injury. The biggest addition to the Denver offense, however, is Al Frazier, a quick, very fast back from Florida A&M who sparked the Bronco attack during the preseason games. Denver has one of the league's top receivers in Lionel Taylor, who caught 92 passes to lead the AFL in this department last year, but Filchock could still use one or two more pass catchers. Frazier, who catches as well as he runs, may fulfill part of the need. The Bronco running attack will feature Frazier and Gene Mingo, but Don Stone may be the fullback the club has been looking for to develop a power threat. Filchock's defensive line, pegged on Bud McFadin, is strong against running and able on occasion to apply pressure to an opposing passer. He is thin at linebacker, with only Bob Hudson returning from the 1960 team, but the addition of Jim Sears to a secondary defense that already has three experienced men, including Austin Gonsoulin, may take up some of the pass-defense slack.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Coach SID GILLMAN should have the best team in the American Football League. He has the surest passer in Jack Kemp, providing Kemp's Army reserve unit is not activated. He has one of the best fullbacks in Charlie Flowers and a set of extraordinarily fast, balanced running backs in Paul Lowe, Bo Roberson (the silver-medal winner in the Olympic broad jump) and Keith Lincoln, who relieves Flowers at fullback. Add to these excellent receivers in Don Norton, Bob Scarpitto, Dave Kocourek and Luther Hayes, plus an offensive line whose only weakness may be a lack of weight at guard, and it is evident that the Chargers will score often this season. But that is not all. Gillman's defensive line, with two huge rookies, may be the biggest in all pro football. The rookies are Earl Faison, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end from Indiana, and Ernie Ladd. From Grambling College, Ladd weighs 315, stands 6 feet 9 and is proportioned like a well-built decathlon man. The defensive line has experienced men in Bill Hudson, 6 feet 4, 270 pounds, acquired from Canada, and Ron Nery, 6 feet 6, 245 pounds, a second-year pro. The sheer mass of this line makes it hard to move aside on running plays; and its giants are surprisingly agile at rushing the passer. The Chargers have four strong linebackers. The best is Chuck Allen, who gained 18 pounds during the off season to reach middle-backer size. Gillman has experimented with the secondary, but really has no problem there.