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Express Beats the Odds . . . Takes On Gamblers

February 24, 1985|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Receivers: Jojo Townsell, who returns for his third season, led the Express in receiving last season (58 catches, 889 yards, 7 touchdowns). He, along with second-year man Duane Gunn, will be the Express' deep threats this season. Two-time Brigham Young University All-American Gordon Hudson, who missed last season because of knee surgery, gives Young another option. Hudson, a tight end, was Young's favorite receiver at BYU. He was kept out of two-a-day practices in training camp to protect his knee, but reportedly is healthy. The halfback position will be shared by returners Tony Boddie and David Hersey.

Offensive line: As soon as the line gets healthy, it will likely be the strength of the team. Center Mike Ruether (6-4, 270)) and tackle Mark Adickes (6-5, 270), both projected to be first-round draft choices in the NFL, will not start today. Ruether had arthroscopic surgery Feb. 4 for cartilage damage in his right knee and remains questionable. Adickes is coming off major knee surgery last season and is being handled with care. Guard Gary Zimmerman, another first-round NFL projection, moved to tackle to replace Adickes last season and was named to the All-USFL team. The leader on the line is seven-year NFL veteran tackle Jeff Hart (6-5, 272). Filling out the line are steady guards Mike Durrette (6-4, 268) and Derek Kennard (6-3, 265).

Defensive line: In another move to trim some fat from the payroll, the Express released promising pass rushers Lee Williams and Dewey Forte in the off season. Los Angeles, though, did get some help by picking up Ben Rudolph (6-5, 271), formerly of the N.Y. Jets, in the USFL's allocation draft. Rudolph will start at right end. The line is led by two-time All-USFL tackle Eddie Weaver and tackle George Achica (39 tackles, 5 sacks in 1984). "Achica has become a very consistent, steady football player," Hadl said.

Linebackers: The Express needed some help here and picked up USFL veterans Carlton Rose (Michigan Panthers) and Andy Melontree (Arizona Wranglers). Returning is All-USFL middle linebacker Howard Carson, who led the team in tackles with 120 last season. He'll be flanked by returner David Howard (79 tackles) and Melontree.

Defensive backs: Hadl says boldly that Dwight Drane will be the best strong safety in professional football by the end of this season. That's pretty big talk for a player who is just entering his second year. In the Express' coup of top collegiate talent last season, it was Texas Christian University safety Allanda Smith, not Drane, who was drawing most of the attention. Smith had an off season, but has recovered to become the Express' starting free safety. Los Angeles still is looking for some depth at cornerback to back up starters Wymon Henderson and Ed Scott.

Kickers: As a rookie, Tony Zendejas did everything you could ask of a kicker. He made 21 of 30 field goals last season, including 15 of 16 inside 41 yards. He made 12 consecutive field goals to end the season and did not miss a clutch field goal all season. Jeff Partridge returns as the punter.

Express Notes

Today's game features the league's two top quarterbacks, Steve Young of Los Angeles and Houston's Jim Kelly. Kelly, who threw for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns last season, was the USFL's Most Valuable Player in 1984. . . . Assistant Coach Mouse Davis, who inserted the run-and-shoot offense at Houston last season, left to take the head job for the Denver Gold. But his offense will remain intact at Houston. The Gamblers are led by speedy receivers Richard Johnson (115 catches, 1,455 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Ricky Sanders (101 catches, 1,378 yards, 11 TDs). . . . If this one is anything like last year's game in the Astrodome, it'll be worth watching. The Express won that one, 27-24, on Tony Zendejas' 42-yard field goal in overtime. That night, Kelly completed 37 of 50 passes for 380 and two touchdowns. Young was 17 of 28 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 56 yards on 6 carries. . . . The first 10,000 fans today will receive a free poster of Young.

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