At the end of the morning practice the Redskins veteran linemen were told to run 30-yard sprints. They would be timed. The idea moved Ron McDole to the giggles. "We can't let these times get out," the defensive end said.
"Strictly confidential," said George Allen, the coach, smiling.
It is unfair and inaccurate to say linemen can not run. They can run. Sort of. It we define running as a rumbling, grunting, gasping, half-fast walk, linemen are very good runners, ranking up there with overweight sportswriters. But timing linemen seems a waste of human energy, for only the U.S. mails move slower.
The linemen made two runs under the clock. Every man seemed stricken with something we may call ambulatory paralysis; their legs moved, but not so you'd notice. Spectators grew old and their hair fell out waiting for the center, Len Hauss, to cover the 30 yards. Diron Talbert, the defensive tackle, went the distance without his cleats leaving the ground. The Talbert Shuffle.
McDole, who is 37 years old and weighs 265 pounds, asked Talbert, "Did you break the sound barrier?"
"Ran the same time both times," said Talbert, 33 and 255.
"What was your time?" McDole said.
Talbert's reply is classified information ("We wouldn't want Dallas to know," McDole said), but observers near the sun dial say Talbert finished the run the same day he started. Talbert seemed proud.
The rookies have been working nine days now, and today was the beginning of the 1977 season for McDole, Talbert, Hauss and most of the Redskins' veterans, those remarkable gaffers who made it to the playoffs last season and, if their Supphose hold up, figure they can do it again this time. The veterans reported to training camp today for two weeks of work before their first exhibition game.
Charley Taylor said he wasn't worried about his shoulder. The wide receiver, an artist in pads, didn't play last season after tearing up the shoulder in the first exhibition game. His loss was a grievous one for the Redskins, who then saw the enemy gang up on the other wide man, Frank Grant, ruining his effectiveness. If healthy in his 15th season, Taylor can make the offense superb, as much with his downfield blocking as with his pass catching.
"I'm not thinking about the shoulder at all." Taylor said. "It doesn't do you any good to look back. I'm looking ahead to what I can do to help this team."
Talbert, who has grown a goatee that somehow makes him look like the world's largest mad scientist, said his 12th season can be a great one.
"I honestly feel we can win our division," he said. "The key to the whole thing is this camp - not getting any of the veterans hurt."
Billy Kilmer, the quarterback starting his 17th season, also talked of winning a division championship. He says he can feel good vibes.
"This is the first time in three or four years that we've come to camp with a totally positive attitude," he said. "We've had those collective bargaining things, where we didn't know if we were going on strike or what. Then last year we had all those guys not signed in camp. [28 Redskins began workouts unsigned last year.] This year we don't have anything negative."
Kilmer was overlooking the holdouts of Mike Thomas, the team's best running back last season, and Grant, the receiver. The coach, Allen, is thinking of those two - at the rate of $500 a day, the fine he will levy against them until they report to camp.
"They're good people, and they're Redskins, both came up in this organization, and they want to play," Allen said. "They're just using bad judgment right now. They ought to be in camp and negotiating, not out of camp."
Allen painted a terrible picture for the two. The coach has noticed a pattern in holdouts, he said. The players miss the conditioning work of camp. Then they report and immediately are injured. Sometimes, he said, they miss the whole season. The coach said nothing about O. J. Simpson, who didn't play a single exhibition game last year but, once signed, demostrated again he is the best runner in the game.
Though Allen said today's practice was less enthusiastic than the last week's work ("The rookies go into a shell when the veterans report"), the Redskins seemed a happy, contented bunch. At one point, a defensive unit caused an explosion of sound that formed the words. "It's great to be a Redskin!" Allen enjoyed that.
The nicest part of the day was a passing drill*. With Kilmer throwing, Charley Taylor, the artist, came from the left side across the middle. The football struck him in the side and bounced away, incomplete. "My fault, my fault," Taylor called loudy. A smile? Was that a smile on Taylor's face?
A minute later, Taylor broke from the right across the middle. The pass was low. Taylor's feet skidded ahead of him and he fell on his rear end. As he landed, he caught the ball, and he shouted to the coach, very loudly, "That's the first one, George." Yes, Taylor was smiling.
A year is a long time to wait for a pass.