A chill wind is coming off the Everglades, and you have to ask,
Is Don Shula being set up? Wayne Huizenga, the zillionaire owner
of the Miami Dolphins, opened the vault and spent $12.5 million
on signing bonuses for veteran free agents and on contract
restructuring, more money than any other team anted up this
season. The first words out of Huizenga's mouth, in a radio
interview that launched the exhibition season, were "Welcome to
the Super Bowl." The Dolphins are bringing in mercenaries by the
wagonload, and nothing less than a Super Bowl will do. If the
team doesn't get there, you wonder just how the fall of Shula,
the winningest coach in NFL history, will be orchestrated. A
quick call from Huizenga to the Fox-TV studio--"Jimmy Johnson,
please"--and it's done.
Quarterback Dan Marino, limping last season on a sore Achilles
tendon but still piling up some of the best numbers of his
career, is gearing up for the big push. And an old pro like
Marino must be a bit dazzled by the way the Dolphins landed
defensive end Trace Armstrong, the Bears' leading sacker last
year, in a trade. He must also be impressed by the way they
scanned the cut lists and the free-agent market to bring in
defensive tackle Steve Emtman, once the No. 1 pick in the entire
draft but now an injury gamble after playing all of 18 games in
three seasons with the Colts, and ex-Steeler tight end Eric
Green, 280 pounds of blocking on the edge.
Marino should also appreciate his impressive collection of new
wideouts: Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and Randal (Thrill) Hill, a
former Dolphin No. 1 draft pick the team gave up on in 1991,
traded after one game and now has reclaimed. You shoot enough
arrows into the air....
Add this mob to a defense that already has studs such as middle
linebacker Bryan Cox, ends Marco Coleman and Jeff Cross,
monstrous tackle Tim Bowens and cornerback Troy Vincent, who's
just one tick away from the Pro Bowl, and throw in an offense
that has Marino, wideout Irving Fryar and all-pro tackle
Richmond Webb, and it's a Super Bowl lock, right? Well, Miami
may be the consensus AFC pick, but I don't see it that way.
I just don't like the team's style of defense. With all that
talent they've been laying in over the years, the Dolphins still
come up soft in the big moments. They gave up 880 yards in their
two playoff games last season, and San Diego ran off 85 plays to
Miami's 47 in the Chargers' 22-21 win. And even the magic of
Marino, who brought Miami to within one missed field goal of
victory, couldn't overcome those numbers.
Tom Olivadotti has been the defensive coordinator since 1987,
and in six of his eight years the Dolphin defense has finished
in the bottom half of the league stats. Every year I read about
how the defense is finally going to "attack," particularly the
passer, but over the last two years only three NFL teams have
had fewer sacks than the Dolphins.
A division champ, yes, just like last year. But the Super Bowl?
Not this trip.
I always liked the Buffalo Bills a little more than other people
did. Maybe it's just their style. They do things with a kind of
swagger. Now I'm one of the few people picking them for the
playoffs. I'm not ready to give up on this still imposing
collection of talent. Call it nostalgia, but I think tailback
Thurman Thomas still has the giddyap in his legs, quarterback
Jim Kelly still can bring it, and wideout Andre Reed can go out
and get it.
Buffalo's offensive line isn't the great unit it once was, but
if the team's No. 1 draft pick, left guard Ruben Brown, comes
through, the line will settle in nicely. And when Thomas needs a
blow, there's a terrific rookie, a seventh-round draft choice
named Darick Holmes, to unsnap some chin straps.
The Bills have made some serious improvements in their defense.
Linebacker Bryce Paup, a sack machine with the Packers, will
line up on the left wing, with Cornelius Bennett shifting over
to the right; how does that sound for a pass rush? Add ex-Cowboy
defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, who can still hook those tackles
with a big-time power rush, and you've got a defense that can
make things happen. I'm not that high on Ted Washington, the
315-pound former Denver Bronco nosetackle whom the Bills signed
this winter, but Buffalo says he will make the defense
invulnerable inside. We'll see.
The whole structure could collapse, though, if something happens
to Kelly. Frank Reich, his backup for nine years--nine
years!--signed with the Panthers, and what remains is a total of
22 NFL passes thrown, by Rick Strom (22) and Alex Van Pelt (0),
plus a rookie, Todd Collins. But lack of depth at quarterback is
the story throughout the league. You don't dwell on it. You just
keep your fingers crossed.
Coach Bill Parcells of the New England Patriots was coming out
of the locker room after his Giants had beaten the Bills in
their brutal, primitive fashion in Super Bowl XXV, and I asked
him, "Does this vindicate your style of football?" He replied,
"It's never needed vindication. It's the flashy, wide-open stuff
that's had to prove itself." That was Parcells football: Sock it
to 'em with big guys, and make them cry uncle. O.J. Anderson
tucking in behind the big drive-blockers. A cold-weather team
playing cold-weather football.
Along came Drew Bledsoe.
In one game last year against the Vikings he threw 70 passes and
completed 45, both NFL records. He threw 691 times in 1994, the
most attempts in league history. He threw for 421 yards and four
touchdowns--to Marino's 473 yards and five scores--in a loss to
Miami. He threw for three more scores and 380 yards against the
Bills, and the Pats lost that one, too.
The New England offense is flashy and exciting and has sold out
all the season tickets in Foxboro, Mass., but I think of
Parcells as a coachman holding on to the reins of a team of wild
horses, hanging on for dear life. He'll sneer at this and say,
"What do you want me to do when I've got a talent like Bledsoe,
hand the ball off 40 times?" But right now I don't think that
his defense is good enough for a steady diet of shoot-out
At one time Parcells's drafts were geared to the running game.
This year he drafted to stop Marino; New England took two
cornerbacks and a linebacker in the first three rounds. Another
third-rounder went toward putting more points up--a gifted
halfback from Pitt named Curtis Martin--and the big free-agent
money ($10 million) went to Dave Meggett, who had been the
Giants' nifty little bailout receiver. Parcells is now committed
to the space game. Fasten your seat belts.
All I hear from the Indianapolis Colts is optimism, and I don't
know why. Jeff George, who was supposed to be their franchise
quarterback, is about to begin his second season with the
Falcons. Emtman, who had been the Colts' franchise defender, is
in Miami. Linebacker Quentin Coryatt, another supposed franchise
defender, still has to prove himself. But Marshall Faulk, the
franchise running back, is everything Indianapolis had hoped he
Now I understand the optimism. Start with Faulk tearing off big
chunks of yardage behind a pretty decent offensive line; that's
a launching pad to someplace good, right? The passing game,
which finished last in the NFL under Jim Harbaugh and Don
Majkowski last season, now has a chance to shine with the
arrival of Craig Erickson. The defense is keyed by a line with
an unusual formulation: on the wings, a pair of upfield-rushing
lightweights in the 240-pound range (Trev Alberts and Tony
Bennett) flanking a massive pocket-crusher at one tackle
(315-pound Tony Siragusa) and an underrated, highly skilled
technician at the other (Tony McCoy). Backing up everyone is Ray
Buchanan, a spectacular defensive back either at safety or his
current position, cornerback.
Put the Colts in the AFC Central, where there are six "gimme"
games--two apiece against Houston, Cincinnati and
Jacksonville--and they would do just fine. The AFC East is a
The schedule facing the New York Jets is one of the softest in
football, loaded with easy marks. The problem is that the easy
marks consider the Jets to be the easy marks on their own
schedules, so it's a wash.
I can't quite figure out what the Jets' new coach, Rich Kotite,
is doing. First he trades away his only decent wideout, Rob
Moore, leaving quarterback Boomer Esiason zilch to throw to
downfield; then, a day later, at the draft, Kotite's No. 1
choice is a 260-pound tight end, Kyle Brady. Huh? Hey, Rich,
what are you going to do--stick the guy out wide and have him run
over a cornerback?
There isn't a unit of this team I like. The defensive line lost
its best player, linebacker Jeff Lageman, to free agency. The
secondary deserted in droves. New York's best linebacker, Mo
Lewis, now has to learn a new position, the middle, because the
team picked up 33-year-old Wilber Marshall, whose tank is just
about running on empty. The offensive line is patchwork, the
backfield has no speed. And the book on Boomer is that if you
pinch off the middle, there is no place for him to throw,
because he won't, or can't, work the sideline routes.
Last year, when owner Leon Hess fired Pete Carroll after one
year as coach, Hess said, "At 80, I'm entitled to some enjoyment
out of this team, and that means winning." To which then center
Jim Sweeney retorted, "There are criminals on death row who get
more chances than Pete got."
PREDICTION: Dolphins 11-5 Bills 10-6 Patriots 9-7
I'll tell you why I think the Cleveland Browns will represent
the AFC in Super Bowl XXX: the anger factor. The Steelers loom
as the big obstacle in this division, and last year Cleveland
lost three times to them. The final game, a 29-9 defeat in the
playoffs, was especially tough on the Browns because of the way
it happened. Their normally sturdy defense was mauled and
humiliated by a crushing ground attack. Cleveland has had to
live with that all through the off-season.
Now the Browns are steaming and ready to resume the argument.
They have lost two starting defensive tackles, including
five-time Pro Bowl veteran Michael Dean Perry, but they have
been fortified by the acquisition of Tim Goad, who was a
terrific nosetackle for seven years with New England, and by
tackle Larry Webster, although Webster will miss the first six
games on a drug suspension.
The Browns' other major difficulty in those three losses to
Pittsburgh was their passing game: eight interceptions, lots of
drops, routes gone awry. Help arrived during the off-season.
First, from Atlanta came Andre Rison, one of the game's premier
wide receivers. He is ably supported by Michael Jackson and
Derrick Alexander, who had his moments as a rookie last year.
Now the wideout corps, which was only average, is top-grade.
Second, from Georgia came quarterback Eric Zeier, a third-round
draft choice who wowed 'em in the exhibition season while last
year's starter, Vinny Testaverde, battled a staph infection. Now
it gets interesting. Testaverde shone at times last season, and
he is a courageous player, but the Cleveland fans simply can't
wait to boo him. Why? Three reasons: He throws interceptions, he
lost to Pittsburgh three times last season, and he replaced
local hero Bernie Kosar.
Zeier is still way behind Testaverde, but he has that certain
something that the great ones have. He had it in college, that
glinty-eyed, hungry look. He stepped up the pace when his
Bulldogs were behind, got them in and out of the huddle quickly
and always looked for the edge. Think back to Brian Sipe during
Cleveland's Kardiac Kids days and you've got a picture of Zeier.
If Testaverde suffers an injury--well, who knows?
If you're looking for a real sleeper, try a 5'8", 201-pound
fireball halfback named Ernest Hunter, a free agent who led the
little schools of the NAIA in rushing last year and had a
dazzling exhibition season. Hunter will provide more oomph for
an offense that ranked 16th in the league in 1994.
Why do we dwell so much on the necessity of Cleveland getting by
the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach Supe XXX? How about the
Dolphins, the Chargers and the Raiders? Well, you get the home
field in the playoffs by having the best record, and you get the
best record by playing Houston, Cincinnati and Jacksonville
twice apiece, which the Steelers and the Browns do. Get the
Logic dictates that the Steelers should be the AFC favorites to
reach the Super Bowl. One long pass by the Chargers and one
drive that fell three yards short of the San Diego end zone were
all that kept them out of the game last season. Moreover, while
free agency has nipped at Pittsburgh's flanks, it hasn't bitten
too deeply, and the team is basically the same one that was a
whisper away in '94.
The running tandem of Barry Foster and Bam Morris is now Morris
and Erric Pegram, with Morris having striven to make a big
statement in the preseason with leaping bursts into the line.
Note to young running backs: Keep your feet; that leaping stuff
puts you on injured reserve. Pegram's a heart-and-desire guy,
too, and I don't think that last season's No. 1 rushing attack
will suffer much from the departure of Foster.
The receivers are a year older and more experienced, and the
offensive line loses Pro Bowl guard Duval Love but picks up
another sturdy old-timer, Tom Newberry. Pro Bowl tight end Eric
Green has taken himself and his 280 pounds to Miami to be
replaced by top draft choice Mark Bruener. The loss of Green
will mean less effective blocking, for sure.
Dom Capers, the defensive coordinator the past three years, is
now the coach of Carolina. His replacement, Dick LeBeau,
inherits the NFL's most exciting defense. With people like
linebackers Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and last year's pass-rush
sensation, Chad Brown, along with cornerback Rod Woodson and a
wonderful pair of safeties, Carnell Lake and Darren Perry,
flying around all over the place, how can you miss? Gary Jones,
a vicious-hitting nickelback, has gone to the Jets, but other
young guns will step in and learn by example.
So on paper the Steelers seem well set for a January trip to
Phoenix, but here's the picture I can't get out of my mind:
There's a glitch in the pass protection; quarterback Neil
O'Donnell has to scramble; he looks downfield; his receivers
aren't helping him out; they're not coming back to him; he puts
the ball up. Bingo! Interception. On the sideline the clipboards
come out and the phone starts ringing. The fans are warming up
for some serious booing. Get that part of the operation ironed
out, and everything will fall into place.
The Houston Oilers have answered the question of how far you can
go with a freak offense. The answer is, to the second round of
the playoffs and no further. As a result the run-and-shoot has
been mothballed. The fans, who grew to enjoy that moving
chessboard laid out in front of them, will have to accept a
struggling team with a conventional attack. I can't quite figure
out what the Oiler offense will look like, at least in the year
or two it will take their top draft pick, Steve McNair, to get
ready to do some varsity quarterbacking.
The best thing the offense has going for it is Jerry Rhome, the
coordinator, who had a hand in nine NFL offenses as a player
and a coach before coming to Houston. He is reunited with his
former Cardinal quarterback Chris Chandler, but Haywood Jeffires
is the only Oiler receiver coming back who had more than four
catches last year.
Jeff Fisher, the interim coach for six games at the end of 1994
who was officially given the job in January, was a Buddy Ryan
defensive back. So you know his defense will be good, just as it
was last year. The Oilers finished second in the league against
the pass with such stalwarts in the secondary as cornerback Cris Dishman and safeties Marcus Robertson and Blaine Bishop.
Owner Bud Adams has been threatening to move the team to
Nashville. In 1987 he considered packing up for Jacksonville. No
one is lining up to build him a new stadium in Houston. The
Astrodome's turf was ruled unsafe for an exhibition game last
month. How much of a distraction will all this be to the
players? Maybe it will give them a few laughs. They could use
This is the rip on the Cincinnati Bengals that I heard after
their prize rookie, Ki-Jana Carter, blew out his knee in the
third exhibition game: How could the Bengals have traded up to
get a runner with the first choice of the entire draft and then
put him behind such a shabby line? They should have used the
pick to get an offensive lineman.
Of course few voices were raised in opposition at the time of
the draft. It was all hip hip hooray, look at the Bengals
spending money. If the Cincinnati brain trust had drafted a
lineman, I suspect it would have been accused of penny-pinching.
You can't win.
I feel sorry for young Dave Shula, who is fighting for his
coaching life this year. Not only did Carter get hurt, but also,
in that same game, backup quarterback David Klingler went down
with a broken jaw. He'll be sidelined for six weeks. So now it's
Prayer City in Cincy. Once again quarterback Jeff Blake will
have to be dazzling. That's the only way to compensate for an
offensive line that is probably worse than that of either
expansion team. What's more, the leader of the defense, middle
linebacker Steve Tovar, broke his hand in the same game that
claimed Carter and Klingler, and he won't be 100% until at least
Next March, Cincinnati residents will vote on a one-cent
sales-tax increase to finance the construction of a new stadium
for the Bengals, an arena with the kind of amenities that many
other teams now have. President and general manager Mike Brown
says a new stadium is needed so that the team can afford the
free-agent talent that will get fans interested enough in the
Bengals so that they'll vote for the sales tax to help the team.
Follow that logic?
Tom Coughlin turned the training camp of the expansion
Jacksonville Jaguars into a stalag, with his rules of
deportment: no golf clubs, no unfastened chin straps, no
jewelry, no trash talk, no negative talk, no negative thoughts,
no thoughts at all (just kidding about the last couple). This
represents one approach to expansion football. Carolina, the
other expansion franchise, has chosen a softer route, but
Coughlin's method might work, if one important condition is met:
The players must be convinced that he knows what he's doing in
terms of personnel and X's and O's. If players think a coach is
unsound in either of those areas, then the Tough Guy routine
just becomes fodder for wry anecdotes years down the road.
O.K., the season will reveal how well Coughlin has prepared this
team-and ain't that profound? For the offensive line to be
decent, the Jags will need their No. 1 draft choice, tackle Tony
Boselli, to return quickly from the knee injury he suffered in
July. The quarterback spot is solid with Steve Beuerlein and
Mark Brunell, the running game is functional, and the defense
has some intense people, such as Jeff Lageman and tackle Kelvin
Pritchett. The Jaguars went lighter on free agents than Carolina
did, and a lot of their draft choices will be on the roster.
Some observers are saying that four wins will be a terrific
season for Jackson ville and that three will be a pretty good
one. I look at it differently. I think it's how hard the team
plays, especially in hopeless situations. That's when you'll
know whether Coughlin's approach was on the money.
PREDICTION: Browns 12-4 Steelers 12-4 Oilers 5-11
Bengals 3-13 Jaguars 2-14
Mike White, the new coach of the Oakland Raiders, who have
returned to their original home after 13 years in Los Angeles,
has worked the California coaching circuit exhaustively:
Stanford and Cal, the 49ers during the early Bill Walsh years
and the Raiders during the last five years as an assistant. Now
that he has finally got the job he has always wanted, he's not
going to screw it up. There are three ways you can mess up with
the Raiders: get out of touch with your quarterback, your team
or your boss, Al Davis. At times it's a tightrope act, because
if you get too close to Davis, the players figure you're a
rubber stamp, and then you've lost them.
That, and worse, is what happened last year to Art Shell, the
coach at the time. Shell had a shouting match with quarterback
Jeff Hostetler on the sideline during a midseason game in Miami;
Hostetler, who was getting the hell beat out of him every week,
went into a deep funk; the players packed it in against the
Chiefs in the finale; and Davis finally dropped the ax on poor
Enter White. "The weekend that I got this job I got on a plane
back to West Virginia and met with Jeff," he says. "I told him,
'We need you to lead this team. If you're not happy with
something, raise your hand. Don't get into a shell and pout.'"
In training camp White concocted an offensive system more like
the 49er short-drop approach than the old Raider
long-ball-off-seven-steps setup. Under White's formula, the
first 15 or so plays are scripted. After that comes lots of
no-huddle, with Hostetler making the calls. Man, any quarterback
who doesn't like this system ought to get a job in a bakery.
Davis stayed away from the team's training camp in El Segundo,
Calif., maybe because he was too busy figuring out the weekly
commuting schedule to Oakland, perhaps because he at least
wanted to create the impression that White will work without
interference. Now even the players appear to have more say in
the operation. "We have an eight- or nine-man advisory council,
and I'm on it," says Pro Bowl wideout Tim Brown, who has been a
severe critic of the organization. "We make suggestions, and
sometimes they go through. First time I've ever seen that here."
So far, so good. White's offense should be blazingly fast and
productive, and the defense is built around an all-out attack on
the pocket by a highly effective front four, plus the best pair
of cornerbacks in the business, Terry McDaniel and Albert Lewis.
Did the San Diego Chargers exhaust their quota of miracles in
reaching the Super Bowl last season? Let's review their good
fortune: The ball slipped out of Bronco quarterback John Elway's
hand at the goal line in the season-opening game; Dolphin kicker
Pete Stoyanovich's 48-yard field goal attempt went wide right
at the end of the playoff game against Miami; in the AFC
Championship the following week Steeler cornerback Tim McKyer
let wideout Tony Martin get behind him for a 43-yard touchdown,
and Charger linebacker Dennis Gibson knocked down quarterback
Neil O'Donnell's fourth-down pass in the shadow of the end zone.
But in the Super Bowl, San Francisco ran up 49 points on a
defense that, for the most part, had looked pretty darn sound.
Afterward, defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger quit, and the
jury came back with guilty verdicts on safeties Stanley Richard
and Darren Carrington, who are now earning their living
"Poor tackling," says Bobby Ross, the coach. "Wrong scheme,"
says Leslie O'Neal, the All-Pro defensive end. Hey fellas,
smile, you were in a Super Bowl. This team, though, hasn't
forgotten another disappointing year, 1993. The Chargers were
coming off a division championship and smiling, and they sank to
8-8. They remember.
San Diego will be a solid playoff contender if rookie Terrance
Shaw, subbing for injured Darrien Gordon at the right corner,
holds up; if the new safeties, Shaun Gayle and either Rodney
Harrison or Bo Orlando, come through; and if third-year pro
Raylee Johnson turns into the demon pass rusher everybody says
he will become. In other words the Chargers will succeed if the
defense is functional, because the offense is sound. Tailback
Natrone Means will do his power thing behind a solid
drive--blocking line and the best blocking back in the business,
265-pound Alfred Pupunu. Believe it or not, Stan Humphries has
the best lifetime winning percentage of any starting quarterback
in the game, and his toughness was proved many times last year.
The difference between the Chargers and the Raiders? The
schedules. They're the same except for three games San Diego
gets three tough opponents, Cleveland, Miami and Arizona, while
Oakland plays Cincinnati, Washington and the Jets. That could be
He was valedictorian of the class of '83, the first of six
quarterbacks chosen in the first round, the first player taken
in the entire draft. The Baltimore Colts picked John Elway and
traded him right away to the Denver Broncos when he threatened
to go play the outfield for the New York Yankees. Now, three of
Elway's classmates, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and Todd Blackledge,
are gone. Dan Marino limps as he sets up to throw those zingers,
and Jim Kelly's shoulder and knees don't feel very good. How
He heard the off-season rumors about his deteriorating left knee
and the loss of speed on his fastball, and then he came out and
did his thing in the preseason. Zzzip! Ball's there. You check
for signs of age and maybe you see it most clearly when he has
to scramble. The bounding colt look has been replaced by the
slightly awkward Ichabod Crane look of a guy of older vintage.
Elway is 35, and last year he was sacked 46 times, the most in
pro football. We know that part of it was his fault because he
likes to wait for his receivers, but he wasn't getting good
protection, either. This season the line is healthy, and the
veteran unit had a good camp. The Broncos also will have a sound
running game if sixth-round sleeper Terrell Davis turns out to
be as good as he looked in the preseason, if tiny Glyn Milburn
(page 72) doesn't wear down, and if Rod Bernstine, who's always
hurt, can put together one healthy season.
Elway has close friends around him--new coach Mike Shanahan,
quarterback coach Gary Kubiak--and you get the feeling that the
big push is on this year, before Elway gets too much more
mileage on him. The defense, last in the NFL last season, has
gotten the kind of help the offense got in 1994. It will be
loaded with free-agent imports like tackle Michael Dean Perry,
cornerback Lionel Washington and linebacker Dante Jones.
I'm picking the Kansas City Chiefs to go 8-8, but I'm getting a
case of the 10's. The Chiefs won a total of 20 games in 1993 and
'94, the Joe Montana years. They won 20 the two years before
Montana arrived, too. That's 40 in Marty Schottenheimer's last
four years as coach, and 40 is what he had in his last four
years with Cleveland. From this you could surmise that
Schottenheimer, whose Chiefs are the only team to have reached
the playoffs every season in the 1990s, is a 10-wins-per-year
coach and that this is a 10-wins team. So why bother to play the
I don't think Kansas City will win 10 games this year because I
don't think quarterback Steve Bono, who has started 11 games in
10 NFL seasons, is the equal of his predecessors--Montana, Dave
Krieg before him, and Steve DeBerg before that. Mechanically
Bono is O.K., but I don't detect that certain oomph in him that
this team needs to make a serious playoff run.
The Chiefs are trying to help Bono, though. From the Jets comes
Jeff Criswell, who will man the right tackle spot but could play
on the other side if John Alt has more back trouble. The line
gave up only 19 sacks last year, 14 of them coming in games in
which Alt was injured. The defense also gets an infusion of
Jets, James Hasty and Brian Washington. Those two, along with
returning veteran Dale Carter, are creating all sorts of action
in the secondary, with starting assignments still to be
There is something else that we should touch on--the story that
simply won't die involves rumblings of a feud between
Schottenheimer and general manager Carl Peterson. If it's
serious and disruptive, then it's time for owner Lamar Hunt to
decide who goes and who stays. Schottenheimer has put a
respectable team on the field; Peterson can point to the NFL's
top attendance mark last year, and this season he has 60,000
season tickets locked up before the first ball is kicked.
Dennis Erickson, the new coach of the Seattle Seahawks, is in an
alcohol rehab program. Brian Blades, the star wideout, is out on
bail on a charge of manslaughter in the shooting of his cousin.
Chris Warren, the Pro Bowl running back, is facing fourth-degree
assault charges for allegedly slapping a woman outside a bar,
and his backup Lamar Smith, who had a sensational training camp,
is awaiting trial for an auto accident (in which Warren was a
passenger) that left a teammate, defensive end Mike Frier,
paralyzed. If they can manage to shut all that away in a
different part of their brains, the Seahawks could have a decent
Erickson and his young quarterback, Rick Mirer, are a perfect
fit because this is a coach who can really develop signal
callers. Just look at his roster of college quarterbacks: at
Idaho, John Friesz, Seattle's current backup; at Washington
State, Timm Rosenbach, a first-rounder; at Miami, Craig
Erickson, the starter for the Colts, and Heisman winner Gino
Torretta. Now he has Mirer, who will work out of a quick-pass
system that may even include a one-step drop, and a terrific
speed burner in rookie wideout Joey Galloway. Erickson also
inherits a running game that was second in the NFL last year.
What will hold the Seahawks back is defense, 23rd in the league
last season and hardly improved now that cornerback Nate Odomes
will miss a second straight year with a knee injury, and
linebackers Rufus Porter and Rod Stephens have followed free
agency's song of the road.
PREDICTIONS: Raiders 11-5 Chargers 10-6 Broncos 8-8 Chiefs 8-8 Seahawks 7-9