After a half-dozen inconclusive and somewhat disturbing exhibition games, the Redskins begin preparations today for the season opener next Sunday against the New York Giants not certain what sort of team they will field this season.
Even now, there is some doubt about who will open the season at three positions: left cornerback, right linebacket and tailback. And there may be still another new face in the defensive line because Karl Lorch has demonstrated he is ready to play regularly.
Coach George Allen wasn't around yesterday to provide any answers. He was in Morgantown, W. Va., watching his son, Bruce, a punter for Richmond,play against West Virginia.
But other team sources have a pretty good idea what will develop this week.
They say that newly acquired line-backer Mike Curtis almost certainly will start at right linebacker against the Giants in place of Chris Hanburger, still recovering from an apendectomy.
They believe Mike Thomas, the team's quickest and best running back, will resume practicing by the middle of the week and be able to start at tailbcck, despite missing virtually the entire preseason with a pulled hamstring muscle in his left leg.
Thomas was excmined by team physician Stanford Lavine Friday night at the stadium, and trainer Bubba Tyer said yesterday the little running back "is making excellent progress. By Thursday, we hope he'll be able to do everything in practice."
No one is yet certain if Pat Fischer has healed sufficiently for him to start and play a full game against the Giants. The consensus is that Fischer probably will be used on a spot basis against the Giants. Allen apparently is no longer is looking to make a trade for a cornerback. He apparently believes that Gerald Williams has demonstrated he can play and start if necessary.
So, too, can Eddie Brown, who came up with two touchdown-producing interceptions when pressed into duty at right cornerback against the Jets. He replaced Joe Lavender, who suffered a mild concussion, spent Friday night at Sibley Hospital as a precautionary measure, and will start Sunday in the Mwadowlands of New Jersey.
Lorch, the second-year defensice end from Hawaii, made another strong impression in the three quarters of action at right end in place of Dennis Johnson, who had the flu.
"He's going to play a lot this year," defensive coordinator Torgy Torgeson said yesterday."Whether Kad starts or not, I don't know yet. There's a chance he could. If not, we might put him in there on obvious passing situations at either end. "He's played very well, and he gives us a lot of depth."
So, too, does the addition of Curtis, who played Friday night with the Redskin defenses inked on to is arm. He also proved he can fit right into Allen's allegedly complex defense.
"Can you imagine just telling out of the sky, putting on a uniform and playing in one day?" said Pete Wysocki, the man Curtis replaced Friday night. "That would be a nightmare. But Mike handled it and he locked like he was having a good time Amazing."
The offense coaches were not having any ball yesterday as they reviewed the films of Friday night's victory in a game so typical of the Redskins' erratic showing this preseason.
"I'm not worried, but I am concerned," admitted offensive coordinator Charlie Waller, who watched his creation continue to misfire with critical penalties, missed blocks, dropped passes and costly turnovers.
"You see what's happening," he said. "We keep stopping ourselves. We've had more work catching the football in practice than ever before and we're still dropping passes. The penalties are killing us and it seems like it's a different guy each time who's making the big mistake.
"When you look at the films, you can see that everything is correctable. We've got good people, but it's just a matter of getting some cohesion. We haven't really had good preseason play here since 1972. We work just as hard at covering everything and if I really believe it's matter of concentration and more intensity of effort."
That is what all the Redskins keep saying. They insist things will change once the regular season gets under way because they play best under crisis situations.
"we're a veteran team and this is how it's always been," said strong safety Ken Houston, who is nursing a strained neck that is not expected to keep him out next Sunday.
"We haven't really started hitting the way we do when the games count. It just makes no sense to get hurt in these games. Why sacrifice the whole season for something that doesn't even count?"
Redskin preseason statistics are grim. The offense unit that has as a goal 24 points per game, has produced nine touchdowns in six games with a high-point output of 16 in the preseason opener. Only five of those scores came on drive, longer than 47 yards.
The main running backs - Calvin Hill and John Riggins - are averaging 2.9 and 3.1 yards, respectively, and the offensive line - considered a major strength when camp opened - has not produced as expected.
Billy Kilmer completed 61 per cent of his passes in the preseason, and his sore left knee, he admits, is going to he a problem all season. Despite a rare 14-yard run against the Jets, he needs excellent pass blocking to be effective.
So far, the line has provided it, and that will have to continue. Kilmer is 28-years old, and each direct hit could well be his last.
Joe Theismann has been a far more nobel quarterback, but also has tossed up six interceptions, and had a half-dozen other passes nearly picked off.
Turnovers have plagued the Redskins all preseason. They have lost nine fumbles, had nine passes intercepted, have penalized 57 times for losses of 557 yards. Clearly, that will have to end if the Redskins hope to gain the playoffs.
Allen has another major dilemma on his hands this week: cutting his current 40-man roster to a 43-man active squad and a two-man taxi unit.
Defensive end Duncan McColl may have guaranteed his salary for the season by coming up with a strained neck against the Jets. He is a prime candidate for injured reserve.
Two newcomers in jeopardy are linehacker Joe Harris, who became expendable with the acquisition of Curtis, and safety Mark Murphy, who may get caught in the numbers squeeze at his position.
If Allen decides to reactivate quarterback Brian Dowling and put him on the cab squad, four players on the current roster will have to be waived or placed on injured reserve. Allen has until Monday at 4 p.m. to make his moves , and the cab squad must be established by Thursday.
Terry Hermeling needed 18 stiches to close a cut over his right eye and the eye was shut tight yesterday. He is expected to play Sunday against the Giants, however . . . Dave Butz' bruised heel is still bothering him, but he should start . . . Stu O'Dell, who missed the Jet game with strained knee and ankle, will play against the Giants . . . Bill Brundige on Eddie Brown: "Even when we're playing cards and he's way down that guy always seems to come up with the big play." . . . Redskin players and coaches celebrated the end of the preseason with a late party Friday night at the Capital Hilton . . . The players were grumbling, however, because Allen asked them to show up at 9 a.m. yesterday at Redskin Park to watch films of the Jet game.