Coach Jack Pardee had a message yesterday for Redskin fans dismayed about the popgun offense their team has displayed in the exhibition season: You have to crawl before you can walk.
"We have people who are capable of getting free long on pass plays, for example," Pardee explained, "but you aren't going to win relying on the spectacular. We found that out last year. So we haven't tried a lot of bombs yet.
"What we are doing now is laying the foundation for the rest of the season. We want to score - that's always our objective and we want to win. But we also have to mold certain things in order to be successful later on."
So, for now, Pardee is not particularly upset about Washington's lack of points. Although the Redskins have not scored a touchdown while splitting their opening two preseason games, settling instead for Mark Moseley's five field goals, Pardee maintains he sees offensive progress.
He began training camp determined to improve the club's toughness and strength. Last year, he felt his players were manhandled at the line of scrimmage and overwhelmed on short-yardage plays, especially against division opponents such as New York and Philadelphia.
To remedy those weaknesses, he used the two exhibition games to work on the power running game and to develop the kind of physical confidence he feels his players need to compete successfully during the regular schedule.
Pardee is out to mold a ball-control team now, not in October "when it will be too late."
Of course, his plans will backfire if the Redskins are not able to eventually integrate the power game with the rest of the offense. But he feels that if "we can move the ball on the ground with authority, that will make things like play-action passes more effective. And that's how you get into the end zone.
"We are headed in the right direction. We had a 4.2-yard rushing average against Denver, which has got a heck of a defense. That's not a bad football team but we were able to get yardage on them pretty consistently. If we can average 4.2 yards on the ground every game, we are going to win some games.
"Last year, we had trouble doing what we are doing well now. How do you get the offensive line off the ball and the backs running hard and a team averaging 4.2 yeards a rush? You do it by working on it and developing it.
"I don't want to minimize the fact we haven't gotten into the end zone yet. We need to be getting in there. But if we have a good kicking game and if we play defense hard and if we run the football, you don't have to cross the goal line as many times to win."
In the two exhibition games, a 9-7 triumph over Tampa Bay and a 13-6 loss to Denver, Washington has tried 77 rushing plays and just 40 passes. Even at the end of the Bronco contest Saturday night, when the Redskins were playing catch-up, they elected to keep the ball on the ground most of the time.
But in at least one area, Pardee's grind-it-out tactics are showing progress. Against Tampa Bay, Washington was successful on third down plays 47 percent of the time (compared to 38 percent for the Bucs) and against Denver, the Redskins had a 43 percent third-down efficiency (compared to their opponents' 33 per cent). Last year, their percentage was just 32 over 16 games.
Yet the Redskins still have not been able to get inside the four yard line in either game and when they needed a pitvotal short yardage gain near the goal line, they fell short.
"We aren't there yet," Pardee said. "But we are making progress. That's what is important. We came into the Denver game wanting to concentrate on ball control. That's what you have to keep in mind."
In emphasizing the running game, Pardee has come up with what probably is a welcome headache. He now has a logjam at the fullback position behind starter John Riggins.
Clarence Harmon again performed impressively, gaining 31 yards in four attempts. Pardee praised Louis Carter, who was moved over from halfback, and Don Testerman, who powered for 28 yards before straining a shoulder.
"We've got some decisions to make there, no question about it," said Pardee. "But Clarence can play both running spots, as can Louis. That gives us the versatility we need. What we have to do now is determine in what situations these people are most effective."
Pardee also said that the team's uncertainty at four major positions entering training camp is working out well.
"We lost Mike Thomas in the backfield but we are showing signs of covering ourselves there," Pardee said. "At linebacker, without Chris Hanburger and now Mike Curtis, we were worried but we are covering ourselves there too. There was a lot of concern about tight end but we have three people who are doing the job there. Mark Murphy is filling in well for Jake Scott at free safety."
But everything was hardly sweetness and light for the Redskins against Denver. Besides losing, they committed nine penalties, in the process helping the Broncos score the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the third period. The young linebackers were fooled continually by quarterback Craig Morton's play-action passes. Both Morton and backup Norris Weese completed more long passes than Pardee wants to allow.
Washington's defense got off to a slow start. Morton drove the Broncos 84 yards on their second possession, finishing the march with Dave Preston's three-yard run. Morton had his team threatening again after Anderson fumbled a punt, but linebacker Pete Wysocki knocked down a third-down pass and Cyril McFall missed a field goal.
Moseley's 39-yard field goal midway through the second period drew Washington within 6-3 and then he tied the game on a 34-yarder early in the third quarter.
Weese, scrambling well out of the pocket, moved the Broncos cripsly to the go-ahead touchdown, a five-yard Preston burst that ended the third quarter. Weese twice eluded sacks to keep the drive alive, although the Redskin pass rush was strong enough to record six sacks for the game.
A booming 82-yard punt by Bucky Dilts in the fourth period prevented what Pardee had hoped would be a game-tying Washington touchdown drive. The Redskins did get the ball to midfield twice but were forced to punt both times.
"We really didn't complete one pass to our wide receivers," said Pardee. "Tony Hall caught one but it was on a screen. We had trouble last year getting them integrated into the offense and we still need to work on it more. We have used a lot of receivers but now we have to concentrate more on our main people."
The Redskins have to be down to 60 players, a reduction of nine off their current roster, by Tuesday at 4 p.m. Quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Kim McQuilken combined to complete 11 of 18 passes for 83 years, but they were sacked four times...Pardee was impressed with Denver end Vince Kinney, former Maryland star, who caught four passes for 63 years. CAPTION: Picture, Washington's Gary Darrell and Sakib Viteskic try to corral wet ball as teammate Tommy O'Hara arrives to help. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post