With a revived Unitas, the Colts are ready to challenge. The 49ers think they are good enough to beat Detroit out of third place, and the Rams are moving up. All four, however, have a distressing common problem: Green Bay. The Packers are the most complete team in pro football
Baltimore: shake-up to move up
The Colts acquired the gymnastic R.C. (Alley Oop) Owens from San Francisco in the off season with only one thought in mind. They want Owens to catch passes, for it is Coach Weeb Ewbank's design to make the '62 Colts the passingest team in pro football. Advancing age benumbed the Colts in 1960 after two championship years. The expected comeback last season was stunted when Quarterback Johnny Unitas, best in the game, jammed a finger on his pitching hand in the preseason. Unitas was issued a bright-red jersey (the team's colors are blue and white) to warn off overeager scrimmagers, and he was the Johnny U of old as the Colts ran up three straight exhibition wins. But the new Colt offense is not all Unitas, although Ewbank designed it to get more and better receivers for him downfield. The incomparable Lenny Moore has been moved from slotback to tight left half. Jimmy Orr, a split end last year, is the flanking back and Alley Oop Owens the new right end. Ray Berry, creaking with middle age but still (as seen at left) a colossus among catchers, remains at split left. Meanwhile, the little running to be done is left to Moore and sophomore Mark Smolinski, Joe Perry's powerful replacement at fullback. General old age is still a Colt concern. There isn't a rookie in camp who will make the first team, and though the defensive line (Gino Marchetti, Ordell Braase, et al.) is formidable, the secondary is in crying need. Baltimoreans, nevertheless, have bought up 48,223 season tickets, a team record. They expect wonders, and the Colts could oblige—if Green Bay, the present wonder-worker, weren't in the division.
Chicago: less to cheer about
The Bears have "optimism," says Owner-Coach George Halas, who really hasn't much to be optimistic about. He brought 16 rookies to camp, smallest number in years, and one was so overweight Halas sent him home. There are also fewer experienced hands. The Bears traded Harlon Hill, once the best end in the game, and Ed Brown, quarterback, to Pittsburgh, which acts as their Eastern Division farm club. Hill had become little more than an understudy to last year's outstanding rookie, Mike Ditka (56 passes caught for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns), and Brown had lost his position to Billy Wade. Now Wade is what no other Bear quarterback has been since Sid Luckman—all alone in the job. Wade soon will be 32, old enough to begin showing his promise. He has a history of getting people high on him, then falling on his face. But even if he justifies Halas' faith, and Ditka has another big year, there is still the thorny problem of running the ball, which the Bears don't do very well. Willie Galimore (right), Rick Casares and Charlie Bivins and now rookie Ronnie Bull (Baylor) are among the NFL's best, but the offensive blocking is ineffectual. Defensively, the Bears have fine red-dogging linebackers in Bill George, Joe Fortunato and Larry Morris. The secondary, though, is like a colander. In 1961, 27 touchdown passes went through. Rookie Bennie McRae of Michigan will help here. But the Bears are counting on Bobby Joe Green, up from Pittsburgh, whose punts average five more yards apiece than Brown's did. This, patently, is an admission of defeat. As last year, the Bears should just about break even.
Detroit: the Plum line
It took us eight years to build a defense," said Detroit Coach George Wilson. "Ours is the best. You can't win in this league without a strong defense." True, but you can't win without an offense, either. Sensitive to the lopsidedness of his Lions (they scored fewer than three touchdowns in nine of 14 games last fall), Wilson became sacrificial this spring and cut into his splendid defensive line, giving up End Bill Glass in a six-player trade with Cleveland that brought, in return, Quarterback Milt Plum, the league's leading passer two years in a row, and Halfback Tom Watkins. Jim Ninowski also went to Cleveland, and what-have-we-done? expressions flooded Detroit when Ninowski outquarterbacked Plum in an exhibition game won by Cleveland 17-14. Wilson still believes that Plum is the better quarterback ("He's been showing us things we've been begging for"), and Watkins, a speedball, will serve to reduce the pressure on Fullback Nick Pietrosante, who was all there was to the Lions' running game last year. Gail Cog-dill, Jim Gibbons and Terry Barr are excellent receivers. Even without Glass, the defense, led by Linebacker Joe Schmidt (right), Tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, Halfbacks Dick (Night Train) Lane and Yale Lary, is awesome. One note of concern: Schmidt is 30 and bothered by a shoulder which required surgery, Lary is 31 and Lane is 34. Others are the offensive line, the lack of a place-kicker and the paucity of rookie talent (the Lions embarrassingly failed to sign their top three draft choices). The Lions have won Miami's runner-up Playoff Bowl twice in a row. They will be pressed to do it a third time.
Green Bay: muscle on muscle
When we go on the field, we don't think of losing," says Henry Jordan, the Cleveland Browns reject who became an all-pro defensive tackle for Green Bay. "We can hold our heads high, and our wives can go shopping." It is possible that the Packers are the finest football team in the history of the game. This is because they are a complete team: they pass almost as well as they run, they are keenly balanced between offense and defense, experience and youth, spirit and savvy. They made a shambles of the NFL title game last December (Packers 37, Giants 0). Against the College All-Stars in August, their Big Back Offense—Fullback Jim Taylor and Halfback Paul Hornung—experienced unexpected running resistance, so Quarterback Bart Starr threw five touchdown passes. Coach Vince Lombardi, master builder of this monolith, has a team with no visible weaknesses. Hornung is the best back in the game. Taylor is second only to Jim Brown at fullbacking (some say it is the other way around). The only way to cover 6-foot-5 End Boyd Dowler is to foul him. Ron Kramer, the tight end (shown at left), feeds on linebackers. After a while, the Packer line takes on an awesome sameness: blocking Tackles Forrest Gregg, Norm Masters and Bob Skoronski are all 28, all over 6 feet 2, all 250 pounds. In discussing needs, Lombardi makes vague references to "depth," but his fretting is suspect (e.g., LSU's 230-pound Earl Gros, first-draft choice, will be back-up man for the indestructible Taylor). The only real shortage the Packers have is space—City Stadium (capacity 38,669) is already sold out for the season.
Los Angeles: Zeke is ready
Watching the atrocities performed by Tackle Merlin Olsen on Green Bay's running attack in the All-Star Game, one NFL scout cried out impulsively: "Oh those lucky Rams!" Olsen, 270 pounds of All-America mayhem from Utah State, was a first-round draft choice of the Rams. The fact that they went on to choose 13 more tackles is stark indication of what Coach Bob Waterfield thinks he needs most to regain some respect for Los Angeles football. There were many deficiencies in the defense. Olsen will help. Lou Cordileone, acquired from the 49ers, has been impressive at end. The secondary seems to have improved. Cornerback Ed Meador is a bona fide all-pro. The offense, which scored as many as three touchdowns only six times in 14 games in 1961, has been little altered, doubtless with reason. Brilliant Backs Ollie Matson, Pervis Atkins and Jon Arnett (left) will improve with better support. So will Fullback Dick Bass, a scooter type weighing barely 200 pounds. Zeke Bratkowski was an average quarterback last year, but the Rams drafted two fine college quarterbacks: All-America Roman Gabriel (North Carolina State) and Ron Miller (Wisconsin). Their impending arrival seemed to work a catalytic miracle on Bratkowski, who says he must have thrown 10,000 passes in the off-season to be ready. Waterfield says Zeke is ready, and there was evidence enough when he threw three touchdown passes against Minnesota in an early exhibition. His receivers are excellent. Red Phillips led the league last fall with 78 receptions for 1,092 yards. All in all, the Rams are improved, more than the teams they'd like to catch.
Minnesota: the sway stays
There was concern last year that Minnesota's swaying offensive line would crumble completely on Quarterback Francis Tarkenton (right), bringing about his premature burial. But Tarkenton, Methodist son of a Georgia minister, prevailed (his footwork was superb), and Coach Norm Van Brocklin promises something will be done to protect him this fall. The Vikings are just a year old and already 24 of the 36 players originally drafted have been dealt away. They won three games last year, a surprise, and with Tarkenton the leading rusher among NFL quarterbacks, were sixth in the league in rushing offense. Their defense, however, was pitiful—they gave up a record 5,593 yards rushing and passing, and their punting was weak. To brighten matters, Van Brocklin has moved in rookie Ed Sharockman of Pittsburgh and the seasoned Dean Derby at cornerback, rookie Larry Bowie (Purdue) at tackle, rookie Larry Guilford (University of Pacific) at safety and rookie Roy Winston (LSU) at offensive guard. The inexperience is bound to chafe, but being last demands changes. There is a surfeit in the backfield. Tarkenton has Lee Gross-cup (acquired from the Giants) and the rangy John Furman (bought from Cleveland) for relief work, and he has four fullbacks. In the event of a trade, one of these will go. The Vikings need a trade to get a pass receiver to run with Jerry Reichow and Hugh McElhenny, who, remarkably, is still fast. There is also definite need of a capable punter. Van Brocklin thinks his team can move up a notch this year, possibly ahead of the Rams. He will not let good reasoning change his thinking.
San Francisco: better with Brodie
Coach Red Hickey becomes unsociable and his digestion suffers when he reads that his 49ers will finish fifth or sixth in the West ("some experts have rocks in their heads"). He thinks well of his present squad. He does not mourn the passing of his shotgun offense because when it petered out last season John Brodie (right) came into his own as a T-formation quarterback. Billy Kilmer, the shotgun's chief aimer, fumbled his way out of a job and his team out of the formation. Kilmer can run and he can pass and he is now trying to make it at halfback, √† la Paul Hornung. The 49ers have lost R. C. Owens, who played out his option and went to Baltimore, but Hickey believes Owens was more flash than fact and that sophomore Jimmy Johnson will do just as well at flanker hack. He gets arguments on this one. The 49ers lost their top draft choice to the AFL, and a '61 red-shirt selection, Defensive End Clark Miller (Utah State) was their only All-Star Game representative, and even that was one too many—Miller twisted his ankle in Chicago. However, Linebacker Ed Pine, No. 2 choice from Utah, has won a starting spot, and either Keith Luhnow (Santa Ana Junior College) or Jim Vollenweider (Miami, Fla.) may hang on behind Fullbacks C. R. Roberts and Cannonball Cooper. With Brodie established and with Clyde Conner, Monty Stickles and Johnson to catch him, the attack could go. The defense is much the same as in 1961, but the 49ers are desperate for linebacking. They also could use running assistance for J. D. Smith. And they could also finish fifth, but third or fourth is more likely.