The young man the Redskins are counting on to block the strongest Baltimore Colt pass rusher never has played a down of professional football at the position he will man tomorrow night. But is tackle Fred Dean worried, scared, just a little nervous?
"I don't feel any pressure whatsoever," said Dean, who will start at right tackle and bop heads with defensive end Fred Cook, leading sack man for the Colts for each of the past two seasons.
"Sure I'm excited about playing," said Dean, 23, a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder. It's my first pro start, it's on Monday night, national television. But right now I'm just feeling kind of relaxed. I know my plays and I can't go out there worrying about making mistakes.
"I just want to help us keep that ball rolling. Cook's a good pass rusher, and I respect him. I just have to look at it as a challenge and I think I'm up to it. A lot of players would love to have this opportunity, and now it's up to me to take advantage of it."
Dean, cut by Chicago during the preseason, has an opportunity to play because regular right tackle George Starke is out for the next six weeks with a torn knee ligament. Starke's backup, Jim Harlan, has missed practice all week with a sprained knee and probably will not be able to play tomorrow.
So Dean, a guard who spent the firsthalf of the season unemployed at his home in Gainesville, Fla., and joined the Redskins three weeks ago, has been practicing all week at the tackle position. Tomorrow night, this former free agent from Texas Southern will get the call.
Coach Jack pardee may also decide to activate tackle Jeff Williams, who returned to the Redskins last week after walking out of training camp in August. Pardee has until 4 p.m. Monday afternoon to decide on Williams status for this week. If Harlan's knee does not improve, Williams probably will be added to the roster.
Both Dean and Williams have been asked to arrive early and practice late all week at Redskin Park. And Pardee said yesterday he had so much confidence in Dean "as anyone you could have that hasn't been tested."
"Fred has good football sense, he's done a good job of picking up stunts and things like that. It's easy to make assignments on plays, but a lot of technique goes into it, too. I think he understands what we're trying to do.
"Obviously, inexperience is his weakness. All four of their (defensive line) people are good and you can't get an easy match-up there. With hustle and trying hard, you hope he (Dean) can compensate for some other things. He's studied and prepared himself. He knows what he has to do."
Tight end Jean Fugett, who will play alongside Dean tomorrow night, said that missing Starke "Obviously makes a big difference.
"Every play this season I've been at tight end and George has been right there beside me, "Fugett said." We worked really well together, and there were a lot of things he'd help me with, especially in blocking for the running game.
I relied on George during the game for information on what my man was doing, what he thought the best way to block him was. But I don't want to put that burden on Fred. Now I've got to help him.
"I think the guy's got a lot of ability, and I have confidence in him. He wants to do the job, he thinks he can do the job, and that's 90percent of it."
Fugett, meanwhile, says his injured left knee feels healthier than it has all season long. He has been able to practice all week - a first since the early weeks of the season - and he no longer runs with a limp.
"I think I can get back to enjoying playing the game again rather than worrying about my physical problems," he said. "This week I can go back and rely more on instincts rather than having to think about certain situations and worrying whether the knee cane take it.
"That's a great relief to me, and it couldn't come at a better time. I always like playing the Colts. I'm from Baltimore, I grew up idolizing guys like John Mackey and Lenny Moore. Mackey did things I'm still trying to figure out. But right now, I'm just happy to be healthy again."
And Pardee is delighted that tailback Mike Thomas also seems to have recovered nicely from the sore right foot that forced him to miss the last three games.
Pardee said he probably will start Thomas at tailback, although he also will use Benny Malone and Tony Green at the position. "Mike looks like he's completely ready," Pardee said. "He hasn't complained about his foot and he's doing everything he did before."
John Riggins did a lot of watching again in practice yesterday, resting a sore hip, but Pardee said he will be able to start at fullback . . . Pardee described yesterday's practice as "one of the better ones we've had for quite awhile."