The Redskins, who were 24th in the NFL against the run last year, have a bunch of young, eager and quick linebackers trying to make the squad this season.
So Coach Jack Pardee admits there is good reason to give the 3-4 defensive alignment a long look during " training camp.
And because Washington will meet a cluster of early opponents who use the 3-4 setup, Pardee says his players will practice against that formation 50 percent of the time the rest of camp. In the process, he also will be able to evaluate just how well his own team embraces the formation.
Although Pardee came to camp reasonably committed to the standard 4-3 defense, which features four down linemen and three linebackers, the Redskins had planned to practice the 3-4, which has three down linemen and four linebackers and is considered a superior defense against the run.
Now Pardee says the development of his young linebackers could influence the team's use of the 3-4 defense more than planned.
"You'd be foolish not to consider it," said Pardee, a cautious man. "It's not like we are going to switch over to it immediately or anythin, but it's part of our defensive formations and we need to play it well.
"By working on it 50 percent of the time the rest of camp we give our offense a good look at it and we also will be able to get used to it defensively.
"I think we are better suited to a 3-4 this year than we were. Joe Jones looks like he would be comfortable in it and the same goes for Karl Lorch, (both down linemen). A lot of 4-3 linemen just don't like the odd front.
Pardee talks about employing the 3-4 on special situations during games, "maybe five or six times, like our nickel." But he also does not rule out more extensive use.
How much the 3-4 becomes part of the Redskins' defensive life -- they used it frequently for a few games last season -- will depend on injuries, the play of such aging althetes as Diron Talbert (35 and coming off knee surgery) and Coy Bacon (36) and the imput of those young linebackers who constantly crop up every time Pardee discusses this current squad.
The first depth chart of the season, issued for the opening exhibition game at Tampa Bay Saturday night, already reflects the effect of those linebackers on the club.
Tim Petersen, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound free agent from Arizona State who had a tryout with the Patriots last year, has moved ahead of second-year man Don Hover and now is behind middle linebacker Harold McLinton.
Rich Milot, the sevent-round draft pick out of Penn State who still is adapting to linebacker after playing six positions in college, is Peter Wysocki's backup at right linebacker ahead of veteran Ken Geddes, who came over from Seattle.
Monte Coleman, the surprising 11th round choice from Central Arkansas, is pushing Dallas Hickman for time behind Brad Dusek at left linebacker. And Maryland's Neal Olkewicz and Penn State's Willie Banks, both rookie free agents, are making impressions in the middle.
Today, when the team employed the 3-4, veterans Mike Curtis and McLinton were the inside linebackers while Wysocki and "dusek manned the outside. Another unit had Hickman and Geddes on the outside and Hover and Olkewicz inside while a third quartet had Banks and Petersen inside and Milot and Coleman outside.
Exclusive use of the 3-4 is unlikely since Pardee and Sox Urich, the defensive coordinator, are advocates of a pressure pass rush provided by a standard four-man front.
"I think that we are going to have an improved pass rush this year," said Urich, "and that is very important to us.
"But we have to play the 3-4 better than we did last year. We really didn't do a very good job with it. No knock on Chris Hanburger, but he was used to a 4-3 and wasn't comfortable with it (3-4).
"We'll use it more than last year. We want to keep teams off balance and make them prepare for both defenses every week."
Of course, no one wants to talk openly about what will occur if Washington again proves unable to stop the run, as happened last year. Toss in the fact that big Dave Butz could prove to be a formidable middle guard and the 3-4 eventually could be a salvation.
Pardee said that quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Kim McQuilken will split time at in the first exhibition game at Tampa Bay Saturday night. More cuts: kicker Pedro Posadas; receives Gary Ellis, Terry Lindsay and Dexter Feaster, and defensive backs Neil Hutton and Joe Branson. Branson was just picked up on waivers from Kansas City. Hutton came over with Randy Sidler for draft choices in a deal with the Jets, which now is nullified since both players no longer are with the Redskins.