Jack Pardee would like Joe Theismann to feel as if there is "no pressure on him to impress me in one series, one quarter or a half" against the Minnesota Vikings tonight in the preseason opener for both teams.
And yet, as the Redskins make their first game appearance under Pardee, their new head coach, all eyes - Redskin coaches, players and the folks watching back home (WJLA-TV-7 at 9 p.m.) - clearly will be riveted on the man who would like to think he can replace Billy Kilmer as the Redskins' starting quarterback this season.
Some Redskins are still not sure he can. They wonder privately if he will ever be a consistent winner in the NFL.
Some say offensive coordinator Joe Walton will call his plays tonight and whenever else he plays because Pardee is not convinced Theismann's mental skills can match the physical ones.
Everyone knows about that whiplike arm and those mobile legs that ought to provide so many yards and so many points. Yet Theismann has never done that on a consistent basis.
There has been some grumbling among the Redskins that Theismann is getting too outspoken again. His frequently expressed critcal statements about former Coach George Allen have no gone over well with the team's old guard. His receivers occasionally whisper that Theismann is too quickly with a criticism if they drop one of his passes or botch a pattern, that he rarely admits his own mistakes and still has a tendency to throw into heavy coverage, the main criticism of his play over the past few years.
But Theismann can silence all of that training camp like beginning tonight. And while he insists he feels no extra pressure, he is aware of the importance of a decent showing against a veteran Viking team with the third-best pass defense in the NFL a year ago.
"This is the first time in five years that I've started an exhibition game," Theismann said yesterday. "It looks like they're doing everything they said they going to do. They're giving me every opportunity and, if I don't take advantage of it, it's nobody's fault but my own.
"It's a nice situation to be in. Who plays will be based on performance. They used to say that around here all the time, but they never meant it. By God, I think they mean it now.
"I don't worry about what other people say about me. I'm concerned about doing the job and helping Jack Pardee and the Redskins win. I'm not staking my future on this game or looking at it as a major hurdle. I just want to play well.
"We've put in a whole new system, a whole new offense, and it's important to do the job on the field and have a good game. It's a good testing point for me and I think I'm ready for it."
Pardee said last night he believes his entire football team is "as prepared as well as any team I've ever been around for the first preseason game. I feel good about our squad at this point, I just hope we'll look like a good team out there.
"I want Joe to show me some continuity. He has to work with the tools. He doesn't have to go out there and beat the Vikings by himself. We'll call the plays for no other reason except that we want to get a good look at the offense the way we (the coaches) want to look at it."
Billy Kilmer, he said, probably will not play, nor will newly acquired quarterback Billy Kenney. Ninth round draft choice John Hurley may see some action in the fourth quarter. Paradee probably will shuttle the plays in to Theismann with his receivers and running backs. He said he also hopes to get a good long look at many of the team's younger players, although some starters on the offensive and defensive lines may go all the way.
At least two veterans expected to be regulars during the regular season will not be in the starting lineup to night. Cornerback Lemar Parrish and safety Jake Scott were both left behind in Carlisle, Pa. Parrish has a sprained and Scott is recovering from a virus. Both players missed most of the work during the practice week.
Pardee said yesterday that tight end Jean Fugett probably won't play, either. Fugett underwent knee surger last March and, while he seems to have a made a good recovery. Pardee will wait another week before using him in contact.
The Redskins will be watching two other wounded knees rather closely. Fullback John Riggins probably will play a half and face his first contact since suffering ligament damage early last season.
"No, I'm not concerned about it," Riggins said the other day. "It hasn't bothered me and I don't think there will be any problem with it. I just hope some kid doesn't try to make a reputation on me."
Wide receiver Brian Fryer, who may start, also has knee surgery a year ago and said, "I'm kind of curious to see what happens. I got some pretty good whacks on it in the rookie scrimmages, but this is going to be a little different. I'm just looking forward to it."
Pardee says he will alternate captains during thre preseason before picking permanent ones for the regular season . . . Riggins and starting guard Dan Nugent will captain the offense tonight, safety Ken Houston and defensive end Ron McDole will handle the defense and safety Donnie Harris the special teams.
Tommy Kramer is expected to start at quarterback and go most of the way for the Vikings, although Fran Tarkenton may takes a series or two in the second half . . . the Vikings are expecting a crowd of 47,000 for the game but it will be blacked out locally . . .
A year ago, Minnesota won the Central Division championship and finished 14th in the NFL in total offense, 21st rushing and sixth passing. . . they were 11th in overall defense, 21st against the rush and third against the pass.