The Redskins, looking to score their first touchdown of the exhibition season against Atlanta Saturday night, picked up two potential quality players today: wide receiver Willie McGee and strong safety Tony Peters.
McGee is a former world-class sprinter who, according to Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard, was starting to come into his own before breaking a leg two years ago. In his seventh season, he was waived this week by Detroit after stints with San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
McGee is expected to be in uniform for Saturday night's game against the Falcons (7 p.m., WJLA-TV-7).
The other acquisition, Peters, was a two-year starter with the Browns. He will join the Redskins Tuesday.
McGee's major asset -- 9.1 100-yard-dash speed -- made him attractive to Washington, which is searching for a game-breaking end. McGee's best year was 1976, for the 49ers, when he caught 13 passes, averaging 20.7 yards a catch before breaking his leg in the seventh league game.
This probably isn't the last move Beathard will make with the wide receivers, a disappointing position for the team during training camp.
The Redskins gave up two undisclosed draft choices in 1980 and 1981 for Peters, who walked out of the Cleveland camp this summer over a contract dispute.
"We just wouldn't be able to get a player of his caliber in the draft next year," said Beathard. "Dallas wanted him too, but we made a deal that didn't rob us of choices.
"I have talked to him and there won't be any contract problems. He is young, fast, tough and he is happy and wants to get going and play for us. We've got to look to the future. We are going to need someone back there eventually for Ken Houston (who is 34).
Coach Jack Pardee had said last week he was concerned about depth in the secondary, especially at safety. The clubs feels set with its starters -- All-Pro Houston and new free safety Mark Murphy -- but Beathard said, "We felt we had to have better backup help. Tony can play both the corner and safety and he'll probably be tried at both."
Since it is unlikely the team will carry more than seven secondary personnel, Pardee ultimately may have to cut either rookie cornerback Ray Waddy, Peters, veteran corner Gerard Williams or veteran safety Don Harris, a standout special teams player.
The coaching staff is impressed with Waddy, the free agent out of Texas A&I, and Harris, who is versatile. That probably leaves Williams vulnerable, especially if Peters shows enough at cornerback to be a possible replacement for Joe Lavender, who faces a court trial date in September.
Peters, a fourth-round pick by Cleveland in 1975 from Oklahoma, was seventh on the team in tackles last season and had two interceptions, giving him five for his career. He was a starter at cornerback before being shifted to safety, where he had lost his spot this summer to Clarence Scott.
Although Pardee is playing down his club's lack of touchdown production (the Redskins have been limited to five field goals in their first two exhibitions), his players admit that another failure to cross into football's promised land will be extremely discouraging.
"I think it is vitally important that we score," said center Bob Kuziel. "The defense has been playing well and it's time for us to show them that we want to do our share too. Otherwise pressure will start mounting on us."
The plan of quarterback Joe Theismann, who has had an uneven training camp, will be watched closely by the coaching staff. Pardee said the quarterback is coming off "his best week so far" and there is a good possibility he will be allowed to throw more than in the previous two weeks.
Against Atlanta, the Redskins won't be able to rely on the accurate kicking of Mark Moseley, who is sidelined with a slight pull in a thigh muscle. His place will be taken by free agent Nick Lowery.
Moseley's absence puts even more pressure on the offense.Theismann, who could play more than a half for the first time in the exhibition season, said the potential 'of loosening up our attack a bit" for the Falcons should lead to increased point production.
"We really haven't thrown into the end zone yet," he said. "We've been working on our ground game and I agree with that. But we've been working on our passing more this week and maybe you might see us open up more. You never know.
"It won't be the end of the world if we don't score, but I think we should, because it will show progress. And that is what training camp is all about."
Both Theismann and back-up Kim McQuilken have completed a high percentage of their passes in the two exhibition games. But neither has been particularly consistent in practice, where the Redskins' tough starting secondary has feasted on their throws.
"Joe needs to take off," said one player. "He needs to get hot. I think he is struggling because they are on him every time he makes even a little mistake and he is pressing. But he has to start looking better."
Pardee says his regulars will play more against the Falcons than in the first two games, although he still wants to get another look at his young middle linebackers and wide receivers. Jean Fugett probably will see duty as a flanker while rookies Don Warren and Phil DuBois fill in at tight end.
"We want to continue to look good as a team," said Pardee, "and, of course, we'd like to score. We always do. But we won't fall apart if don't."
Atlanta's defense, No. 5 in the league last year, has been a sieve in two preseason losses. The Falcons have surrendered 37 points to New England and 42 to St. Louis while not employing their usual blitzing tactics.
Coach Leeman Bennett promises more blitzing for this game. He also will start two new defensive tackles, Edgar Fields and Wilson Faumuina, and two young running backs, William Andrews and Ricky Patton. Veteran Steve Bartkowski will begin at quarterback with Scott Hunter playing the second half.
Bennett, much like Pardee, has been giving his rookies a thorough look in the opening preseason games. But he says the Falcons are now beginning "our regular-season" phase of training camp and he will start using his regulars more often.
One area in which Atlanta has been particularly vulnerable is the secondary. Opponents have completed 69 percent of their attempts against Atlanta, a statistic that just could help Theismann regain his passing form.
To make room for McGee, the Redskins dropped rookie Jon Sutton. They will clear a spot for Peters by Tuesday, when they have to be down to 50 players under league rules.