Tight ends and running backs are more predominant as receivers in the National Football League this season, and the Redskins are no exception.
Tight end Jean Fugett is tied for the club lead in receptions and for the first time in coach George Allen's seven years in Washington, running backs will catch more passes than the wide receivers if the current pace continuces.
Zone defenses and more recently, the emergence of the double zone, in which both wide receivers are double-teamed, is cited as the reason a tight end (Dave Casper of Oakland) is tied for the NFL lead in receptions and seven running backs rank among the top 10.
Although backs have been promised as pass receivers in recent years, they never have outnumbered wide receivers on the final list of top 10 receivers.
The buitt-in weakness of a zone to exploitation by the tight and has resulted in a basis transition of the prototype blocker like Mike Ditka - to faster, strong tight ends like Charlie Young. Russ Francis, Raymond Chester, Rilley Odoms and Fugett.
The Detroit Lions now are using two tight ends and only one running back. One of the tight ends in the offensive innovation of assistant coach Ed Hughes lines up a yard behind the line of scrimmage so both wide receivers also remain eligible pass catchers.
"The purpose of the zone is to prevent the easy score, the bomb," said Allen. "Wise tight ends can do damage to a zone. They can run 12 to 14-yard patterns that defeat a zone. You try to stop it, but you can't.
"All the tight end has to do is elude the linebacker and find the open spot. Jean and Jerry (Smith) do a good job at it. With emphasis on the running game, you want good blockers first. Then if you've got both, you've got a home-run hitter.
After Fugett and running back and-long passes in a key touchdown Mike Thomas caught four third-down-drive last Sunday against the Cardinal's double-zone overage, Fugett said:
"It you've got Frank Grant on one side and Charley Taylor on the other, who would you (double) cover."
"The offense is taking what the defense gives them," said Torgy Torgeson, the Redskin detensive coordinator.
Grant watched Oakland play Kanas City in the Monday night game this week and he sounded envious of Raider tight end Casaer.
"The tight end, after he blocks two people, gets up and says, "I think I'll get into the pattern."
Casper is not one of the fastest tight ends, but he can find the open part of thre zone after blocking two men because quarterpack Ken Stabler gets so much pass protection.
"The tight end, that's the weakness of a zone because you can always find a hole a soft spot," said Redskin Ken Houston, all-pro strong safety. "You have a team like Oakland who gives Stabler a lot of time to throw, he'll complete them all day and Casper will continue to lead it."
The zone defenseis nothing new. The Baltimore Colts used it exclusively in their 1950 heydays under Weeb Ewbank. Allen teams did not start playing the zone until 1970, the coach said, and he does not advocate it as a primary pass defense.
Red-skin statistics illustrate the way offense have adapted to increasing zone coverages. This reason, wide receiver's have caught 38 completiond. or 34.2 per cent; running backs have caught 17. or 44.7 per cent and tight ends the other eight tosses.