Seven weeks ago, Jack Pardee gathered most of his veteran football players in a Redskin Park meeting room for the first time and, as is his style, delivered a short, direct-to-the-point speech.
"Is is my responsibility to play the best football player next to the best football player at every position," Pardee told his men. "I'm not prejudiced against young players or old players. I will play the best man."
There no applause, no whoops or hollers from the audience, that day, but there were many smiles around the room.
"Nobody clapped," said reserve center Bob Kuziel, "but yes, you might say he was well-received."
"I believe him. I think everybody on the team believes him. For the first time since I've been here, I'm going to training camp knowing I've got a hell of a shot at playing this season.
"I don't resent George Allen or his system. He believed in me enough to keep me on the team. I learned how to win, what it takes to win. But last year, I played only 10 downs from scrimmage, (eight of them at tightened in short-yardage situations). It seemed to me at times they would do anything they could to keep me out of the games.
"But now, all that's changed. It's wide open. I'm going to get that opportunity, and that's all you can ask."
And so, Kuziel will be among 73 players, most of them rookies, free agents and players off last year's injured reserve list, to arrive in Carlisle, Pa., tomorrow morning for the opening of the Washington Redskins' 1978 training camp.
The first practice is tomorrow afternoon and will be open to the public, as will all workouts in Carlisle another departure from the Allen years.
Two-a-days will begin Monday morning and probably continue through training camp. Rookie scrimmages against the Colts will be held July 22 at Annapolis and July 29 at Hershey, Pa., with the preseason opener Aug. 5 at Minnensota.
Quarterbacks Billy Kilmer and Joe Theismann will be required to show up with the rookies tomorrow. The majority of their veteran teammates are due July 23 for what will be the shortest - and perhaps liveliest - training camp in recent Redskin history.
Because the new 16-game regular season will begin Sept. 3, the Redskins have made plans to break camp Aug. 17. That will give Pardee and his staff only four weeks to drum a new system into the players' heads in the relatively distraction-free atmosphere of Dickinson College.
It may take that long just for everyone to get acquainted in the wake of the tumultuous offseason reorganization of the club, from the head coach and general manager down to the equipment man.
Allen, of course, can now be seen licking his hands, and talking about closed practices and must-games for the Los Angeles Rams, his current employer.
Only Joe Walton, Alien's offensive backfield coach, remains as an assistant coach, and he has been promoted to offensive coordinator. Pardee has six new assistants and the staff has spent the offseason rewriting the playbook.
The team Pardee inherits is missing 11 of the 59 players under contract in 1977. Five of the Allen era's most valuable men have retired - Charley Taylor, Pat Fischer, Jerry Smith, Brig Owens and Bob Brunet - though all of them saw limited duty a year ago. Another, Bill Brundige, may not be able to play this year because of a damaged foot.
Larry Jones and Joe Harris were traded by new General Manager Bobby Beathard. The rest - Jim Kiick, Windlan Hall, Tyrone Dye and Will Wynn - were recently released on walvers.
The Redskins have 110 players under contract as they head to camp. They must trim down to 60 players by Aug. 15, to 50 by Aug. 22 and to 45 for the regular season opener at New England Sept. 3.
Over the next seven weeks, Pardee hopes to achieve a flock of objectives and answer a lot of nagging questions during workouts and four preseason games.
He will install the increasingly popular 3-4 defense, featuring three down finemen and four linebackers and, said yesterday, "It will be a major part of our defense. I would think we'll use it about the same amount we use the nickel defense. We'll also stay with four linemen. I think we can use both."
The recent aquisition of Lemar Parrish from the Cinicnnati Bengals shored up one glaring problem area, depth at the cornerback position. By the time the season opens, Parrish should be the starter on the left side over Gerrard Williams was a regular a year ago pressed into duty when Fischer was unable to play.
Pardee and pizazz hardly go hand-in-hand, yet both Kilmer and Theismann have said publicly there will be more flair to the offense designed by Walton. Pardee just says he will go with the plays that produce the most yards.
A year ago, the Redskins finished 20th among NFL teams in total offense and 23rd rushing. "You can't expect to win big with those kind of statistics," Pardee said. "We've got to improve the running game," we've got to protect our quarterbacks better and we've got to have a major improvement in the offensive line.
Pardee already has taken one major step toward achieving that goal. During the team's minicamp in May, he switched Terry Hermeling from right guard to left tackle, demoted two-year starter Tim Stokes from that position and put Dan Nugent into Hermeling's old guard spot. Kuziel, a man some consider to be among the most talented linemen on the team, also will get a long look at center.
The quarterback position, Pardee has said, is up for grabs in camp. Theismann, the cover-boy kid known as "Hollywood" to his teammates, will play at least a half to three quarters of each preseason game. Any sort of decent showing would earn him the starting position he so dearly covets.
Kilmer, who apparently will go to camp unsigned and unhappy over the Redskins reluctance to grant him a two-year guaranteed contract, is still the darling of the team's geritol generation. But he has 39-year-old legs, a battered body to boot and has not been able to stand the rigors of 14-game seasons in recent years. Unless Theismann is abominable, or hurt, Kilmer seems destined for a season of semi-sitting.
Pardee also will be paying close attention to several key knees, especially those belonging to fullback John Riggins, tight end Jean Fugett and defensive end Dennis Johnson.
Riggins and Johnson apparently have recovered sufficiently from knee problems of a year ago. Pardee hasn't even asked them to come to rookie camp with the other injured reserves "because I think they're fine." Mike Thomas also is healthy again after being hamstrung in 1977 but plans to play out his option.
Fugett's status is uncertain. Though the Pro Bowl tight end insists he will be ready to play when the games start to count, Pardee is not to sure. "I've asked him to come in this week," he said. "We want to watch him very closely."
He already has been impressed by the play of Jim Harlan, a free agent offensive lineman from Howard Payne. Tony Green, the team's first draft pick (in the sixth round, from Florida has shown breakaway speed and could make the team.
Brian Fryer, the Canadian wide receiver who has spent two years on the injured reserve list, will get a shot a starting, and Larry Franklin, a speedster from Jackson State, may be among the surprises in camp at the same spot.
Other names to watch include tight end Reggie Haynes and defensive tackle Pern Brooks, both on injured reserve last year; Alva Liles, a large free agent guard; linebackers Don Hover and Chris Tormey; and quarterbacks John Hurley, Scott Gardner and Tim Kllis, all challenging for a back-up spot.
Pardee says he will be delighted to have as many as 10 youngsters make his team in 1978. He also admitted they would be wise to make an impression early because there will be no time for mollycoddling.
"I know George (Allen) put a big premium on experience," Pardee said, "and I do too. I like experienced players, but I'm not going to keep a great athlete on the bench just because he hasn't played much.
"Theoretically, every position on the team is open. I can tell you though that our veterans are not the kind of people to give away their positions, either. "We're going to play our best people."
"I'm excited about it. We've had a good offseason, and I know I am. We have a lot to accomplish, but I belive we have the players to do it. I'm expecting a lot from them. I can't wait to get started."