Tight end Jean Fugett practiced as a wide receiver today, a change Redskin coaches say had been planned since the start of training camp.
Nevertheless, the move reflects the growing concern about the team's pass receivers.
"Having Jean learn that wide spot gives us more versatility in our offense," Joe Walton, offensive coordinator, said. "We may use two tight ends Saturday night (against Atlanta) and then not do it again until our fifth league game. But Jean there could be a big plus for us."
Moving Fugett also is insurance for the club if the present corps of wide receivers doesn't show better progress.
Walton and Coach Jack Pardee admit that the team's ends must improve. Although the Redskins have emphasized their running game in preseason, Pardee isn't pleased with the passing game.
No wide receiver has shaken loose downfield for a substantial gain in either exhibition.
At least, Pardee could smile today about what had been another worrisome spot, the offensive line. Guards Dan Nugent, and Jim Harlan, both troubled with spine problems, were back in camp for the first time in two weeks.
"This is the best shape our line has been in since camp started," Pardee said, although neither is expected to resume practice until this weekend or, more likely, early next week.
"They will start rehabilitation by swimming to get their cardiovascular system in shape," Pardee said. "Then they will work on weights and maybe get into pads by the end of the week. But we have to play it by ear and see if they start hurting again."
Both have degenerative disks. Nugent's is in his lower back and Harlan's in his upper. Prolonged stays in traction helped each ease the discomfort and avoid, for now, the possibility of surgery.
"We just have to see how it goes," Harlan said. "The swimming will get our shoulder and neck muscles loosened up and then we will take a step at a time. But it's just good to be trying it again."
With Nugent and Harlan back, the club must cut four players to meet the limit of 60 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. In lopping off five players today there was one surprise, rookie wide receiver Tony Hall, who had been impressive in early camp.
But without a standout speed-burner at the end position, the team felt it didn't have the luxury of carrying a 5-foot-9, 168-pound reserve.
"We've got to start playing Ricky Thompson and Danny Buggs and John McDaniel more and give these regulars work," Pardee said. "Tony was behind Kris Haines, Terry Anderson and the others and his size alone was a problem. He has got to get a little more strength and he'll have a shot here or somewhere."
Pardee said that Fugett remains the No. 1 tight end, but "it would be to our benefit to have him know the wide receiver spot too.
"A team like Dallas runs two tight ends as a standard part of its offensive. They'll run it 30-40 percent of the time. With him in there as a wide receiver, we can also run our regular offense. You can use it effectively deep in your own territory or to run out the clock.
"We were going to use it more last year but then Jean was hurt so much we couldn't. It hurt us on short yardage situations when having two tight ends would give us more offensive versatility."
But it seems likely that if Fugett, who played some wide receiver at Dallas, shows he can handle that position and if rookie Don Warren continues to improve at tight end, the Redskins might have a way to shore up their passing, at least for parts of games.
Pardee believes his receivers are fast enough to get deep. He is worried about their medium patterns, on which they have to battle the chucking of defensive backs.
"The receivers need to get better," said Walton, who works with them every day. "We are not going to experiment as much with combinations this week. We are getting the regulars in there to keep working.
"They have to get depth on their routes, things like that. But I think it can be worked out."
The club started extra work today on the passing game, which Pardee said would last all week. With the team's ground attack improving steadily, Pardee said the rest of the offense must catch up.
Entering camp, the coaches felt that the receiving would improve through repetition. Of the primary pass catchers, only Buggs was at last year's camp. Thompson (from Baltimore) and McDaniel (from Cincinnati) were picked up just prior to the start of the season to temporarily fill what was considered a glaring weakness of the 1978 team.
Experience has not helped the ends as much as had been hoped. Thompson, a 6-foot, 170-pound fourth-year man from Baylor, probably has made the best showing, making a couple of nifty long grabs in practice. McDaniel, a 6-1, 197-pound sixth-year man from Lincoln who had 34 catches last year (third on the team), has had an extremely quiet preseason. Buggs, a 6-2, 185-pound five-year man from West Virginia who led the club in 1978 with 36 receptions, is not as tough as the coaches would like.
"Ricky has the speed to get loose deep and so does Danny," Pardee said. "But I realize that it would affect our running game if our passing doesn't come around.
"I've been pleased so far with just about everything in this camp except not being able to get into the end zone during our games. We just haven't been able to help ourselves by picking up some big gains downfield on our passes."
In the two preseason games, the ball-control Redskins have completed eight passes to their wide receivers. Ironically, Hall caught four of them, Thompson grabbed two against Tampa Bay. Neither Buggs nor McDaniel has pulled in a pass while playing infrequently.
Haines, a hard-nosed youngster from Notre Dame, is earning more playing time. But he is only 5-11 and 183 pounds.
There is no question that the team lacks a game-breaking receiver such as Lynn Swann or Issac Curtis. But those kinds of athletes are not usually available through trades but through the draft. Next year the Redskins will have their first full draft in years.
Meanwhile, the 6-4, 230-pound Fugett said he didn't ask any questions when he was told to play both wide receiver and tight end this week.
"I just play and they do the coaching," he said. "I still consider myself a tight end, but it's good for me to work at wide receiver too. I did it at Dallas and I think it was effective. I don't see us using it that much. It just gives us more options."
Besides Hall, other cuts were defensive end Jesse O'Neal of Grambling, a Canadian Football League veteran; center Lou Orlando, a rookie from Yale, safety Anthony Young, a rookie from Jackson State, and defensive tackle Dwight Carey, a free agent from Texas-Arlington who spent most of camp with an injured toe.
Don Testerman was the major casualty from the Denver game. He has a sore shoulder...Harlan's injury at first had been considered more serious. It had been feared that two vertebrae were pinching in his upper neck.That would have ended his career.