Philadelphia is the home of Tradin' Joe Kuharich, a man with a low regard for independent thinkers. Tradin' Joe does all the thinking for the Eagles. This has caused him difficulty with the team's stars, who, as stars will, have confessed to notions of their own about how football should be played. Two years ago Kuharich shipped out Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and Flanker Tommy McDonald for excessive thinking. This year he traded two of his best defensive men, Linebacker Maxie Baughan (five times an All-Star choice) and Back Irv Cross, to Los Angeles for the same offense. Baughan and Cross had both complained about the amount of blitzing required of them.
While some fans are sharply annoyed at Kuharich for these trades, there are others who believe that he had to shake the team well to break up cliques and mold it into an effective unit. "The Eagles don't need stars," Kuharich says. "We need players whose level of performance does not rise and fall like the stock market. Baughan and Cross are good players, but for one reason or another they were not consistent, and this hurt us."
There is no question that the Eagle defense needed something. While the 1965 offense was as productive as any in the East, the defense did not do its share. The team lost nine games by an average of only 6‚Öì points each.
Kuharich has begun to remodel his defense with two men obtained in the L.A. trade—Linebacker Frank Brown, who weighs 232 pounds, and Back Aaron Martin. (Philadelphia also received Flanker Willie Brown in the deal.) Kuharich spent his first two draft choices on defenders—Ends Randy Beisler and Gary Pettigrew.
One key to the team's defensive prospects is the left linebacker, Mike Morgan (6 feet 4, 242 pounds). He is in his third year and now may have the experience to play up to the potential of his size and strength. If Morgan has matured and the rest of the linebacking is consistent, pressure will be taken off the secondary, which had to gamble last year to cover for linebacking lapses. The defensive backs are quick enough but on the whole lack the height to cover tall receivers as well as Kuharich would like. Look for Joe Scarpati to handle the blitzing assignments that formerly fell to Cross.
In the line the Eagles have needed a better outside pass rush, which they may get in time from Beisler and Pettigrew. Overall the line is fairly good and is backed by a reasonably deep bench. Tackle Floyd Peters defends well against either the pass or the run and provides a strong inside rush. Tackle John Meyers is strong against the running game but is a little slow reading the plays as they unfold and is slow getting to the passer.
The offense again should be hard to stop. Quarterback Norm Snead, after a good 1965 season, had surgery on a weak knee and is in excellent shape. At his best Snead can call a smart game, balancing the strong Eagle running with accurate passes at short and medium range. Behind Snead is King Hill, a certified big league quarterback who has knocked around for eight years but has never been No. 1. Although he has a strong arm he is not No. 1 because he is terribly inconsistent. The Eagles' No. 3 quarterback is the little-used scrambler, Jack Concannon. Tall and strong, a good runner and a pretty fair passer, Concannon could be valuable as a halfback. He can run well enough, and with the threat of the halfback option pass he could be doubly dangerous.
In any case, the Eagle running can be outstanding. Now that Jim Brown has retired, the other Brown, Tim of the Eagles, is the most versatile runner in the game. He weighs 198 and can burst through the line or sprint around it with equal facility. He is at his fancy best when he breaks clear and shows off his repertoire of fakes or his tantalizing change of pace. Last year Brown was third in yardage (861) and first in average yards per carry (5.4).
Brown usually lines up with Fullback Earl Gros, but Gros has had a leg injury and the hit of the Eagle camp has been Israel Lang. A 230-pounder with speed and an unusual knack of keeping his balance in a thicket of tacklers, Lang is also a good pass receiver, as are most of the Eagle runners. A good thing he is, too, because the receivers are not the best around. An exception is old Pete Retzlaff, the All-League tight end, who is beginning his 11th season. Rookie Flanker Ben Hawkins of Arizona State is promising, but he will not make the fans forget the hands and moves of Tommy McDonald, at least not for a while.
Kuharich's offensive line is excellent. Guards Ed Blain and Jim Skaggs can block ahead or pull out to lead running plays with power and dexterity. The huge tackles, Bob Brown and Lane Howell, are fine at pass protection. Brown, beginning his third season, weighs 276 and has become a tremendous all-round performer. Center Jim Ringo, the old Green Bay stalwart, is tuning up for his 14th season. He is obviously a little too old for the position and a little too light as the monsters of the defenses keep getting bigger, but Ringo plays as if he were 10 years younger and weighs as much as he needs to.
The big question in Philadelphia is whether Tradin' Joe's deals and thought-control have transformed the Eagle defense into a reliable one. That is possible but improbable this year. The Eagles may finish as low as fifth in the East.