A frightening bolt of lightning almost altered the Redskin running back situation today.
Benny Malone's sore hamstring was receiving electric heat treatment in the training room when the bolt flashed across the top of the club's locker room, knocking out the power and sending a shaken but safe Malone scurrying for cover along with a bunch of his teammates who were in whirlpool machines.
That is about how this camp has gone so far for Malone. Nothing has turned out quite the way he wants. He has been hampered by that hamstring pull from the very start and every time it seems to be getting well, it starts hurting again.
He has practiced, but not as hard or as often as the other candidates for Mike Thomas' vacant halfback spot. And now with the opening of the exhibition season looming Saturday night in Tampa, Fla., there are still questions to be answered about the position.
Will Malone, who has been plagued in the past by injuries, especially to his hamstring, be able to stay healthy for 16 games?
Will a more mature, more diligent Tony Green prove his critics wrong by holding up under the grind of a season despite weighing only 185 pounds?
Will Louis Carter or Ike Forte or another of the less-heralded backs in camp provide the kind of running depth the club will need?
Because Thomas was so unpredictable and susceptible to injuries, the Redskin think this current crop of backs eventually will prove more productive, eclipsing his 534 yards of last season.
Three players may eventually replace Thomas. Malone right now is the projected starter, with Green's talents being utilized frequently, and possibly Carter, a sure-handed receiver, being employed on third-down passing situations. Or the elusive Green could fill that role too.
Malone runs as hard as any half-back in the league and his start is among the best. But those hamstring pulls and what Miami Coach Don Shula once thought was his inability to allow blocking to develop in front of him have prevented him from gaining more than 797 yards in any season.
Yet Malone twice led the Dolphins in rushing before losing his starting job in 1977 to Gary Davis. He then was traded to Washington last season, but rushed the ball for just 92 yards partly due to knee problems.
When he is healthy, he can be devastating. In his career, he has had eight 100-yard games -- and no one ever has questioned his determination.
"I've never been hurt while getting hit," he said. "And I don't think I am injury prone. I pulled this hamstring running a 40-yard dash, even though I was in great shape. It is just frustrating that I can't go all out right now. I can't shake the leg.
"This is a great opportunity for me. I was never really beaten out at Miami. They just replaced me. This is a new start, a new team, but I know I have a lot of competition behind me. Any of those guys could start if I don't do it.
"It will be hard for any back to go through a 16-game schedule. So we are going to need everyone. It's up to me now to get used to this line and learn to work with them. I change my styles accordingly. Following my blocking never has been a problem. I think I know how to run in this league.
Green's status improved the minute he walked into this training camp, his second as a pro. A Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie, he has improved his upper-body strength through weightlifting and, perhaps more importantly, his mental approach to the game.
"He has really grown up," said General Manager Bobby Beathard. "He really knows what he wants from this game now. He's worked as hard as you can want out there since the opening day of camp."
Green admits his attitude has changed. "I now know this is a business, that if I don't do the job, they will get someone else who will," he said. "Last year, I just wanted to make the team. What happened to me was nice."
The Redskins were apprehensive that Green's quick success as a kick returner was bringing him fame that he couldn't handle. But the staff's fears have quieted now; his offseason work and his goal to "win a starting spot and not just be a kick returner" have impressed them.
And Green also wants no part of talk that he is too small to stand up under NFL punishment.
"Walter Payton is small, Greg Pruitt is small, Tony Dorsett is small," he said. "Not every guy in this league is 6-2 and 230. I don't know why I should be considered so different.
"Weights have given me confidence Now I don't think I will be broken up every time I get hit. I realize this isn't like college. You don't have a four-year scholarship. You can go in a day, but I want to stay. I want to be first string and I want to return kicks.That's tough but I think I can do both.
"That's why I think I'm more dedicated. I've got myself more together than I did last year."
Green still has to prove he can block well enough to earn a full-time role. But if Malone goes down with an injury, he may be pressed into service sooner than anyone expects. Of course, Carter or Forte could emerge as a factor in the exhibition games or a stronger Clarence Harmon, now a fullback, could see duty at the position.
"There definitely are a lot of questions we must answer in these games," said offensive coordinator Joe Walton. "We may well have role players, using different talents to make a complete back. We have to see what Tony does when he gets the minutes. We know that Benny has the ability, but we don't want to push him and have these hamstrings become a major problem.
"Ideally, you'd like to see a situation develop where you have three or four guys with equal ability who all could do the job. I don't know right now if that's the case."
Both Dan Nugent and Jim Harlan underwent myelograms today, According to Coach Jack Pardee, there were no immediate indications that surgery would be necessary in either case, but both will continue in traction before any further decisions are made . . . The Redskins' new offensive linemen, Gary Anderson and Bill Bain, arrived this morning and took part briefly in the afternoon workouts. CAPTION: Picture, Benny Malone