"If the quarterback problem is solved ... if O.J. Simpson gets to carry the ball more often ... if rookies come through on defense ... and if the Bills can finally adjust to the Rauch system of football after a one-year trial ... then maybe Buffalo can make some headway against New York, Baltimore, Miami and Boston in the Eastern Division of the AFC.
Johnny Rauch moved to Buffalo last year after spectacular success at Oakland. He installed a system he described as 'more demanding and more flexible than the previous one.' And though the Bills improved their record from 1-12-1 to 4-10, it was neither spectacular nor successful. And if the Bills are neither spectacular nor successful this year by the time those cold and snowy winds start coming off Lake Erie, a lot of football fans might move indoors to watch the new pro basketball and hockey teams.
What the Bills need most is a quarterback. Jack Kemp, who threw 22 interceptions and ranked only tenth in passing in the old AFL in 1969, has retired and forsaken football for politics. Fighting it out for the starting berth are the men Kemp beat out last year: Jimmy Harris, who was sidelined as a rookie last season with a stomach ailment and a knee injury, and Dan Darragh, who missed part of the season because of military service and then injured his shoulder against the Jets. Another veteran with a shot at quarterback is Tom Sherman, a third-year man from Penn State who was obtained from Boston. He only played in the closing minutes of the final game for the Bills, but he did throw a touchdown pass, one of 17 last year as the anemic Bill offense could score only 230 points in the 14 league games.
The answer may ultimately be Dennis Shaw, the number two draft choice out of San Diego State. Built like a pro quarterback at 6-3 and 210 pounds, Shaw threw 39 scoring passes last season in leading the Aztecs to their second straight undefeated season.
If the quarterback problem is solved, better use can be made of O.J. Simpson, the league's sixth-leading ground gainer with 697 yards on 181 carries for a 3.9-yard average. Simpson also accounted for 343 yards on pass receptions in what would have been a fine rookie season for anyone but a former Heisman Trophy winner. By the end of the season, though, Simpson was complaining about not getting the ball often enough and not being able to 'free-lance' on offense. He carried the ball an average of 13 times a game, compared with the 30-plus times he usually carried it in college.
Another rookie who had a disappointing season was fullback Bill 'Earthquake' Enyart. The 236-pounder from Oregon State was beaten much of the year by veteran Wayne Patrick.
If Simpson and the other Bill backs want the ball more, it is up to the defense to see that the other teams don't have it so much. Rauch took dead aim on the leaky defense, which allowed an average of 26 points a game in 1969. Previously a strong point in the Bills' glory days of the mid-60s, the defense was a sore spot last season. Several key players were injured for all or part of the season and Rauch used the college draft in an attempt to bolster the defense. The number one choice was big (6-5, 245 pounds) Al Cowlings, a defensive end from Southern California. Defenders Glenn Alexander, Jerome Gantt and Steve Starnes were the fourth, fifth and sixth choices. But there are better-than-average veterans up front in perennial All-Star Ron McDole and Bob Tatarek. Butch Byrd in the secondary and solid linebackers like Paul Guidry and Mike Stratton, another All-Star regular, provide a good nucleus.
There was only one statistical category in which the Bills had two representatives among the league leaders: kickoff returns. This was further testimony that the Buffalo defense gave up an awful lot of points. Simpson and speedy Bubba Thornton each averaged about 25 yards a return, good enough for the fifth and sixth rankings, respectively.
The offensive line is experienced, with Al Bemiller, Billy Shaw, Joe O'Donnell and Paul Costa all around 30 years old. Mike Richey was a rookie who won a starting job. But the pass protection was leaky, perhaps because the linemen had to adjust their blocking to so many different types of quarterbacks. At any rate, the Bills obtained center Fred Marchlewski from the New Orleans Saints and drafted 6-2, 250-pound guard Jim Reilly from Notre Dame.
If a regular quarterback can be installed, the Bills have the receivers for a potentially fine passing attack. In addition to Simpson and Patrick coming out of the backfield (each caught more than 30 passes last year), there are the fleet Haven Moses and Marlin Briscoe as wide receivers. Moses average 19.3 yards a reception on his 39 catches while Briscoe, a converted quarterback, caught 32 passes for 532 yards; each scored five touchdowns. Former Arkansas star Bobby Crockett and Texas Christian flash Bubba Thornton both were injured much of the season, but showed brilliance at times.
The punting is safe with Paul Maguire, who averaged 44.5 yards a kick, only a tenth of a yard off the league lead. Bruce Alford was the sixth most accurate kicker in the league and scored 74 points."
-Brenda and Jack Zanger, Pro Football 1970