With less than a week until the Washington Redskins open training camp, the team has a problem at tight end.
Jean Fugett, who tore cartilages in his left knee last season, waited until late in the offseason to have corrective surgery. Fugett's rehabilitation schedule probably will cause him to miss the first part of full-scale work outs at training camp.
"I'm happy with the way the knee has come along," Fugett said. "But I'm still playing it cautiously since the leg is still not as strong as the right one.
Redskin Coach Jack Pardee would have preferred Fugett to have had surgery immediately after the 1977 season. Fugett chose to wait to see if the knee would heal.
"Basically, I just didn't want to do it," Fugett said following the March 29 operation. "I had never ever spent a night in the hospital.
"In the 1976 season I sprained some ligaments in the same knee. At first, I figured it was just recurrence of that injury all over again." Fugett sat out two games with the aliment that season.
But after being told that he had damaged cartilage, Fugett decided on the operation. "Maybe I could have played another year without the surgery," he said. "On the other hand, the knee might have locked on me walking down the stairs or something. If I had played on it, the cartilage could have worn down even further. Torn cartilage does not heal itself."
Following the operation, Fugett rested and kept the knee elevated a month to let it heal and to get the swelling down.
The second rehabilitation stage consisted of walking to make the joint flexible. After that, Fugett started swimming. By last month, all the fluid had been drained and the knee was flexible, according to Fugett.
Since late May, Fugett has exercised three to four times a week at Redskin Park, to strengthen the atrophied muscles in the left leg, especially the thigh. He's done leg exercises on a universal, weight machine and jogged up to a mile.
"I did not get out for a walk for over two months after the operation," Fugett said. "Now I can jog plus occasionally run some short sprints.
"I'm just trying to ease back in, to remid the leg what it's there to do." Fugett also has been doing some bicycling and playing a little racquetball.
Guy Borrelli, Redskin strength coach said, "He's doing as much as he can possibly do." "On some days he can do more than on others. But the leg has definitely muscled up.
"The next most difficult stage of development will be when he has to make a cut on the leg. If the knee can stand that, then the final test will be when he first gets hit."
Fugett led Redskin receivers last year with 34 receptions for five touch-downs and was selected for the Pro Bowl. He became a Redskin after playing out his option after four years with Dallas.
Pardee must consider options at tight end if Fugett cannot open the shortened training camp with the starting unit. Because of the expanded regular season (to 16 games), the pre-season will be two weeks shorter than usual. With two fewer exhibition games to experiment with personnel, the importance of having a definite starting lineup throughout training camp is magnified.
Pardee has two alternatives for the tight end slot recently acquired veteran Jim Mandich and Reggie Haynes, who spent his rookie season last year on the injured reserve list.
Mandich came in a trade with Miami in May after having played little last season. As backup to Andre Tillman, Mandich caught six passes. The Redskins would give up size at the position with the six-foot-two 215-pounder playing in place of Fugett (6-4, 226).
Another veteran, Tom Mitchell, was picked up from San Francisco in a trade this spring. The Redskins feel that Mitchell's own knee problems probably will keep him from passing the team physical in training camp. Fugett's backup last season, Jerry Smith, retired.