His badly bruised ribs have healed nicely and the dislocated big toe on his right foot "is gonna be fine," insisted Eddie Brown, the battered little return specialist with a lofty goal still very much on his mind.
Although he admitted, "I've taken more of a beating this year than I did a year ago," Brown still thinks it is conceivable that he could set an individual NFL punt-return record, and possibly even achieve the 700-yard mark, a figure that would set a club record by 12 yards.
At the moment, Brown has 329 yards on 42 punt returns, considerably below a record pace. "But I think it's still possible," he said. "What we need is one or two big ones, and everything will fall in place. And we've come so close. The last two weeks, we've been one man away from breaking two for touchdowns. I think it's going to happen.
A year ago, Brown gained 646 yards on punt returns, the second-best total in NFL history and only nine yards off Neal Colzie's NFL record set in 1975. He also averaged 13.5 yards a return and had a memorable 71-yard slosh to the end zone against the Cardinals on a rainy Monday night.
But this season, Brown has managed to average only 7.8 yards a return, down considerably from a year ago and also under the 11-yard-per-return-goal set by special teams coach Paul Lanham at the start of the season.
Brown set an NFL record in fielding 11 punts against Tampa Bay this season, but a hard tackle damaged his ribs.
Brown's injuries have been one factor in the diminishing returns. Against Dallas, he admitted yesterday, "It hurt to breathe, let alone get tackled." But he wears special padding to prevent further damage "and I've gotten better every week."
"But basically our problem on punt returns has been a change in the personnel," said Lanham. "Danny Buggs, Gerard Williams and Clarence Harmon are playing regularly, so we've had to change those spots. Bob Brunet and Stu O'Dell are injured and out for the year, so we've had to fill in there. And Pete Wysocki's been hurt, too."
"We really worked well as a unit last year," Brown said. "Losing Williams, Buggs, O'Dell and Brunet means I'm probably losing six or seven blocks a return, and that causes big problems.
"O'Dell was getting two and three blocks a return, and there's no way you can replace a guy like that. People don't realize how well he played last year, but believe me, I knew. Especially when we had him and Gerard double-team the end. I just never worried about the guy on that side because I knew he wouldn't be there.
"The guys who have taken over are getting better every week, and they're working hard, real hard. So we're improving all the time. The new people are figuring things out and really getting into it. That's why I'm optimistic about it."
Monday night's opponent, the Green Bay Packers, don't have much offense or defense, but their specialty units are strong. A year ago, the Packers led the NFL in punt-return defense. They are allowing only 6.3 yards a return in 1977, and punter David Beverly, once out by the Redskins, has decent hang time and a 41-yard average.
"They have excellent coverage," Brown said. "They don't get knocked down, they keep their feet and they hustle all over the field."
Aside from the punt-return total, Lanham gives his special teams high marks so far on most of the rest of his goals for the regular season.
The Redskins are averaging 23.5 yards per kickoff return, slightly below the 26-yard goal, although Brown lead the NFC in kickoff returns with a 24.5 yard average.
On kickoff coverage, they want to hold opponents to 19.5 yards a return. The average after nine games is 20.3 yards.
The Redskins are playing well on punt-return defense, allowing an average of 4.8 yards when a punt is returned and a 3.5 yard average for opponents every time Mike Bragg punts. The goals were seven yards a return and 3.5 yards allowed per punt.
Lanham wanted his punt-return unit to place the opposition inside the 10-yard line eight times for the season. Because of Bragg's phenomenal coffin-corner kicking, the Redskins have already done that 11 times.
The Redskins also have blocked five placekicks, equalling their goal, and have blocked two punts and tipped another. Lanham wants at least four for the season, and would also like to produce five turnovers in the kicking game. So far, the Redskins have not forced a turnover, "but we've been awful close to a few," Lanham said.
The Redskins held a two-hour closed practice yesterday at Redskin Park and, when it was over, Allen said everyone had participated, including defense end Dennis Johnson. Johnson has a sprained ankle, but Allen said there was a possibility he would play against the Packers . . . Allen decided to call off this morning's practice in favor of team meetings . . . The team will practice Sunday night at RFK Stadium, but the session, as usual, is closed to the public.