When the 28 NFL teams start firing real bullets this weekend, the Chicago Bears' new defensive team will get a close look.
Will the champions be as intimidating in the conventional three-man line that Coach Mike Ditka prefers as they were in Buddy Ryan's bizarre defense last year?
When this was asked the other day of Ryan, who coaches the Philadelphia Eagles now, he said: "(Linebacker) Mike Singletary won't let the Bears lose."
But the club's big man isn't a big man. He is a 6-foot inside linebacker who seems small for his new assignments.
In Ryan's 46 defense last year, a four-man line kept blockers away from Singletary while he was bearing down on ball carriers. In conventional NFL defenses, he will be pad to pad with blockers who stand 6-6 and outweigh him by 75 pounds.
Ditka raised another question when he criticized the exhibition-season contributions of three of his favorite players last season, safety Dave Duerson, linebacker Otis Wilson and defensive end Richard Dent, the most valuable player of the Super Bowl.
"I thought (those) guys took the preseason off," Ditka told reporters. "They didn't work very hard."
Although he has a probable Super Bowl contender, Coach Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos seems relaxed. He's still telling his favorite stories.
The sport he liked best at South Carolina, Reeves reminded a reporter this week, was baseball. He was known in college as Home Run Reeves.
"I didn't care for it too much," he said. "It was kind of an embarrassing nickname for a pitcher."
The NFL sounds satisfied with its experiment with instant replay officials this summer and predicts improved officiating in the 16-week regular season.
"We got the bugs out of the system during the preseason," said Norm Schachter, former NFL referee who is serving the league as one of its 14 upstairs officials. "I think it's going to work very well."
NFL Executive Director Don Weiss said the league experimented with its new toy in 31 exhibitions.
Empowered to change any ball-movement call after an instant-replay review, the press box officials changed only two.
"One was in the Kansas City-New Orleans game when a play was first ruled a touchdown pass," Weiss said. "The pictures clearly showed the man down on the one-yard line. It was reversed and the Chiefs scored on the next play.
"The other reversal was in the Giant-Steeler game. After a punt, the ball had been spotted on the 23-yard line. It was changed to the 27 when instant replay showed that the punt hit a cover man there."
In a third instance, the equipment malfunctioned when Schachter reversed a Coliseum call but couldn't get the word to the referee. In subsequent weeks, a backup system was designed and used successfully.
"Keep in mind that this is a limited plan," Weiss said. "We're only trying to correct obvious errors involving the ball. Was it a fumble or not, a catch or not, out of bounds or in--things like that. We aren't reviewing judgment calls like pass interference."
Lindy Infante has returned to Ohio, where as an offensive coordinator he helped get the Cincinnati Bengals into Super Bowl XVI with an imaginative passing attack.
This time, after a tour in the USFL, Infante is with the Cleveland Browns and his charge is Bernie Kosar, the second-year quarterback from Miami of Florida.
Kosar still seemed immature this summer and he'll have his hands full in Soldier Field Sunday against the Bears. But eventually, he and Infante could be quite a team.
Infante recently compared his complex offense to Ryan's complicated 46 defense and said: "You can't have anybody around with short attention spans."
Kosar, who graduated from Miami ahead of his class, also takes the intellectual approach to football.
Physically, he still has some flaws that the Bears, perhaps, will exploit.
The Eagles, due in Soldier Field a week hence, will begin Ryan's first season with 10 new starters at Washington Sunday.
Two are rookie running backs, Junior Tautalatasi of Washington State, a 10th-round draft choice, and 225-pound free agent Mike Waters of San Diego State.
All told there are seven offensive backs on the Eagles' roster. Some clubs get along with four or five.
"Why keep people around if they can't play?" Ryan said.
Ron Jaworski and Ryan spent the exhibition season mildly criticizing one another, but the veteran quarterback is still in the lineup.
They may not be enough, but Jim Kelly will get two breaks in his NFL debut Sunday against the New York Jets:
--The game will be at Buffalo, where a big crowd will presumably give him some encouragement.
--He won't have to do it all. The Bills have been concentrating on their ground attack with Greg Bell and others all summer.
"We've been hitting the running game hard because every successful team can do something with the ball on the ground," Buffalo Vice President Norm Pollom said. "When we started training camp, we didn't know we'd have Kelly so soon.