To understand why the Redskins are happy with halfback Benny Malone despite his inconsistent yardage production this season, it is necessary first to remember the man he replaced, Mike Thomas.
When he was healthy, Thomas was a quick, exciting runner, twice capable of eclipsing 900 yeards in a season. But he also was an unenthusiastic blocker, injury prone and, at least in the eyes of Redskin management, an unhappy employe with an attitude problem.
While Malone may not be gifted with Thomas' talents, he brings to this current Redskin team traits Coach Jack Pardee things are vital: superior blocking, a hard-nosed outlook and an overwhelming desire to play despite aches and pains.
"You know that if he can walk, he'll show up and play on Sunday," said Fred O'Connor, the offensive backfield coach. "You know he has to be hurting, because he takes a beating out there. But you never hear Benny complain."
The Redskins still feel that going with Malone over Thomas is an improvement, even if their new halfback probably never will equal Thomas' yardage output.
Malone is likened by O'Connor to a playmaker in basketball. His contributions may not show up on the statistic sheet, yet his team would have difficulty winning without him.
"It's no accident that Joe (Theismann) is getting better protection with Benny back there," O'Connor said. "Our line is improved, but Benny graded out 100 percent last week on Atlanta's blitzes. He doesn't miss blocks.
"Benny fits in with this team. Why do defenses wear down against us? Because guys like Benny are blocking and hitting on every play. If you are a linebacker and you get hit by Malone three straight times, it's going to take something out of you."
Yet both Malone and his coaches agree they would like him to produce more yardage than his current mark of 193 on 76 carries (2.5 a run).
"It will come, one game I'll break out," Malone said. "I'm not worried about that I can't let statistics bother me.
"I feel good and I feel faster than I ever have. So far, others have been able to fill in when I haven't been going so good and the game will come where they will be down and I will pick them up.
"We are winning, so I must be doing some things right. There are more ways to evaluate a back than just on yards gained. My college coach (Frank Kush of Arizona State) told me if you can block and catch and run and are dependable, those are things that make a total player.
"Your teammates have to be able to depend on you and know you aren't going to let them down. These are the things that will keep you in the game and keep you valuable to a team.
That's why Theismann calls Malone, his locker mate, "my man." Under Kush's college tutelage, Malone became an excellent blocker who gobbled up linebackers -- and Theismann never has to worry about getting hanged from the blind side.
"Benny's entire style fits into what we are doing," O'Connor said. "We want a physical team, a punishing team because that's how we think we can win.
"He is power runner. They aren't going to have the flashy stats that a finesse runner will get, and that is no excuse for Benny. He isn't in there faking and such. He is going all out and getting what he can get."
The way they are shuffling backs, the Redskins really aren't looking for anyone, except possibly John Riggins, to gain 100 or more yards a game consistently. With the steady improvement of Buddy Hardeman, Malone most likely will average fewer carries in the future while still filling a special role on a role-oriented team.
Malone has a unique approach to the game that varies completely from that of Thomas. Thomas would prefer not to meet a tackler head on; Malone relishes the idea.
"I have geared myself and my body to take hits," he said. "I figure if I see a guy coming and he is going to whack me, why not go after him? Let him absorb the punishment."
Malone has the body to be aggressive. His chest and arms are so well developed he looks as if he had just walked off the pages of a muscle-building magazine.
"When I walk on the field I'm sure people are laughing because I don't look that big," he said. "But I'm laughing, too.
"I know I can handle myself out there. I work out once or twice a day in the weight room to build up my body and to make myself strong.
"I like it rough, the rougher the better. I enjoy contact. Sure, it can take its toll, but my major injuries have never come from contact; they've all been flukes.
"If I run hard every play, sometimes it might not work out right, I may get overanxious. But most of the time, no one will get me on a cheap shot. I'm a very superstitious person; I've been running this way a long time and it's worked and I'm not going to change now.
"They may beat me to the corner but one of these days, they aren't and I'm going to rip one off. That's why I go all out. They better be going all out, too, or they won't be there to get me."
Running in that manner, Malone says, makes it necessary for defenses to pay attention to him. With the Redskins mixing up their offense and using a bunch of runners and receivers, he now believes their attack "resembles a fast break. If it is run right, the defense never can tell who will wind up with the ball.
"That's why they are having trouble stopping us. And I don't see why it should change."
Whether Malone can hold up the rest of the season to remain part of that offense is another question. The hamstring he pulled in training camp still is bothering him and he has other assorted bumps and bruises.
"You can't make them much tougher than Benny Malone," O'Connor said. "We just hope by playing a lot of people back there, it will prolong his season. He's important to us. We need him."
Both Danny Buggs and Ricky Thompson ran yesterday, but Pardee still is not sure if both can play Sunday at Philadelphia. If both are not 100 percent, Pardee said he would start rookie Chris DeFrance along with John McDaniel. "We can't have people in there who are less than 100 percent if we want to beat the Eagles," he said. . . . DeFrance was brought back Wednesday after being cut last week by the Redskins. And McDaniel was cut in the preseason before returning a few weeks ago . . . Karl Lorch, who missed at Atlanta game with a bad foot, is practicing full time.