George Allen, the new Ram head coach kidnaped from the Chicago Bears, has made a number of unusual investments in behalf of his new owner, Dan Reeves, who was once head of a Los Angeles brokerage firm. In the past the Rams have been notorious for trading players for draft choices. Often these trades succeeded in disposing of players who were on the verge of stardom (Night Train Lane, Andy Robustelli, Tom Keane, Big Daddy Lipscomb) or established stars (Norman Van Brocklin is the prime example) for rookies who proved to be far less valuable than the players traded. This year, at Allen's behest, the Rams have traded draft choices for players.
"I want to win now," says Allen, a young, intense man who has been recognized as a defensive genius for a long time. (The Bear team which won the league championship on defense in 1963 awarded the championship game ball to Allen.)
Allen has a store of gold ball-point pens, which he awards to players who make the squad. Each pen is inscribed with the player's name and the word NOW. "I'm not building for the future," Allen says. "I like bald heads and gray hair on the squad. I want some men with polish and know-how. You have to have them to win."
Under his policy of trading for experience, Allen has made the Rams a much better club. For example, he has acquired veteran Halfback Tom Moore from the Green Bay Packers to jolt the anemic Ram rushing. The Rams suffered from a lack of authoritative linebackers last year, so Allen traded a draft choice for veteran Myron Pottios of Pittsburgh, two second-line players for Philadelphia's Max Baughan, then talked Bill George of the Bears and Jack Pardee of Texas A&M's coaching staff, formerly a Ram linebacker, into returning to action for one more year. Now the Rams, with seven first-rate linebackers, have an embarrassment of talent at a position where they had been woeful.
Allen has thus disposed of all but two of the Rams' first 10 draft selections for next season, and has done so with such skill that he has: 1) bolstered a weak running attack, 2) rebuilt the linebacking corps, 3) added depth to his defense line, 4) strengthened his defensive backfield and 5) engendered a spirit of immediacy that has supplanted the Rams' habitual disposition to wait until next year. Allen's free use of draft choices as trade bait was partly dictated by the fact that the NFL and AFL will have a common draft next January. With 26 teams, instead of 15, making choices, every club's draft will be diluted.
In Roman Gabriel and Bill Munson, Allen has two enormously capable quarterbacks. He will probably go with Gabriel, the veteran who led the Rams through a good second half of the 1965 season, although Munson is potentially the better of the two. Even with the addition of Green Bay's Moore, Allen could use more ball carriers, although a lighter Pen Wilson (220 against 240) gives the Rams more mobility and better striking power from the fullback position. The Rams also need another good, fast deep receiver. Bucky Pope is injured and Tommy McDonald, as agile and accomplished as he is, cannot carry the load alone. The offensive line is sound and capable, if not up to the Green Bay standard. Allen suffered a serious loss at tight end when Marlin McKeever, one of the best in the league, was injured in a freak automobile accident. He lost the ring finger of his right hand. The forefinger was damaged as well, and McKeever is out for half of the season, possibly longer.
The Ram defensive line—Ends Lamar Lundy and Dave Jones and Tackles Rosey Grier and Merlin Olsen—probably is the best in all pro football. With Green Bay's Willie Davis, Jones is one of the two most accomplished defensive ends, and the rest of the line is close to him in quality. With the new linebackers to free them for a more daring style of play, the defensive linemen will be more effective. The Ram secondary also should be far better than it was in 1965, when it was handicapped by a lack of short-range coverage by the linebackers. Irv Cross, traded from the Eagles, has moved into the one secondary position—right corner back—where the Rams were weak.
It is doubtful that Allen, in his first year as coach of the Rams, can come close to claiming the kind of surprise championship that his 1963 defensive team made possible in Chicago, when the Bears gave up only 10 points a game. In today's even tougher Western Conference the Rams will not hold such teams as the 49ers, Packers, Colts and Vikings to so meager a point production.
And without an offense to match those of the leading contenders, the Rams will have to depend far too much on that defense. Even with the gold pens reading NOW the defense won't be able to record enough shutouts for a Western championship. But the Rams could move up to fourth, a significant achievement.