Cooler air and refreshing breezes finally hit the Redskin training camp today, and over where the wide receivers and tight ends run their patterns, one could almost hear a collective sigh of relief.
The sprinters who catch footballs have had a rough week of running, leaping, lunging, darting and diving in miserable heat under the watchful - and often critical - eye of Pete McCulley, the Redskins' new receiver coach.
Every day, McCulley cranks his arm and throws about 50 passes to each of his 11 men even before the regular seven-on-seven drills are held. He is hoping 11 that pitching and catching will play off in Saturday's rookie scrimmage at Annapolis against the Colts.
While the glamour quarterbacks on both sides - bert Jones of Baltimore and Bill Kilmer and Joe Theismann of Washington definitely will not play, the Redskins young receiver corps should provide one of the main attractions in the 2 p.m. show at Navy's football stadium.
"It's still too early to tell if this is the best group I've ever had," said McCulley, a Colt assistant last year. "But these guys are working hard, they're responding well and they keep getting better every day."
The receiver who seems to be responding best is Larry Jones, now making an apparently successful come back from the severe ligament injury to his left ankle he suffered in the opening game of the 1976 regular season.
Almost every day, Jones has made one spectacular catch after another. "I'm pleased with his progress," head coach George Allen said today. "He worked very hard in the offseason and it shows. And Larry's hungry, that's the other thing."
Indeed he is after spending 1976 on the injury-reserge list. This is Jones' third Redskin training camp, and he was equally impressive the previous two. But it takes more than a flashly catch to beat out a Roy Jefferson, Charley Taylor or a Frank Grant.
"I want to start," Jones said today." "But I'm never going to say to them. 'Play me or trade me,' I'm still young (26). and I'm not impatient. People keep telling me, 'You're looking good,' but that doesn't mean a thing unless you do it in the games.
"I realize this is a team of experience. You just don't walk into a job by making spectacular catches. I think George Allen knows the ability issi there, the experience is coming and that one day he's going to call Larryyr Jones to play. And Larry Jones is going to produce."
A year ago, Jones and his agent, Guy Draper, were taking a more hard-line approach. Both were unhappy when Allen decided to put Jones on the injured-reserve list, even though team doctors said he could play again by midseason.
"The way things worked out," Jones says now, "I'm kind of glad we gave it the time to heal. Even though I was disappointed to have missed the whole season, in the long run I think they made the right choice."
Jones seems as swift as ever as he runs his patterns, and he will have to keep making those big catches - and contribute on the special teams - to preserve his job.
A year aaa go, Allen began the seasonn with four wide receives. Taylor and Grant will be the starters this year barriirng injury, and the remaining two or th three other jobs are up for grabs.
Aside from Jones, there are four slow, Brain Fryer, Danny Buggs, James Thompson - who were on the Redskins' payroll last year. All but Buggs were on iinjured reserve, and all four have a shot now. And reently acquired Earl Thomas has played six years in the NFL and shows no sign of slowing up.
Even the free agents in camp - Steve Thompson, Kevin Farrell and Bill Bryant - have beenn impressive, and Allen says, "We've got a lot of guys who are very even." Most of the receivers also are giving McCulley rave reviews. "I've caught more balls in practice than I ever did before," said Jones. "Dick Bielski (the man McCulley replaced, now with Baltimore) more or less did his thing around the veterans. Pete starts with the basics and works everyone in."
"I'm not going to change much when the veterans come in," McCulley said. I'm basically a batting practice before they even get near the quarter-backks. There's a lot of learning by rote to be done. You catch the ball so many times in a non-stress situation that when there is stress, you do it naturally.
"I believe in phase teaching. You take a guy and throw to himself. Then you add one defender, then go to a seven-on-seven drill, then on-11, then a scrimmage and then a game."
McCulley also worked with most of his young receivers at Redskin Park during the offseason. Tight end Bill Larson, who also looks like to find, probably caught 300 passes a day for three months at Redskin Park after he signed on as a free agent. Jones, Fryer and Grant also received extensive offseason work.
"It can't help but pay off," said McCulley. Heee will begin to find out Saturday against the Colts.