Almost 8 1/2 seasons after he graduated from college, Pete Wysocki finally will start a National Football League game at linebacker Sunday when the Redskins play Philadelphia in a key NFC East encounter.
He is there because Rich Milot, the rookie who beat him out in training camp, suffered a broken left wrist in the first defensive series against the Browns last Sunday. Wysocki probably participated in as many defensive plays that day as he did in 4 1/2 previous seasons here.
The Redskins graded him at 90 percent against the run and 96 percent against the pass. "That's nice," Wysocki said, "considering I'd never practiced against their offense before."
What impressed Coach Jack Pardee even more than Wysocki's consistency in grading was his ability to make the big play. The coach cited a third-down pass late in the game on which the Redskins were blitzing and Wysocki had Calvin Hill covered so well that Brown quarterback Brian Sipe was forced to throw the ball out of bounds.
The Browns missed a field goal on the next play and the Redskins then drove 80 yards for a touchdown and the 13-9 victory.
"He was in a hot spot and held up," Pardee said. "He made some real big plays for us and never really hurt us. They've got to grade pretty well to be able to play at all. But if you have a major mistake for a touchdown, it doesn't necessarily mean you can still win."
Wysocki will be one of two new starting linebackers Sunday when the Redskins play their first home game in a month. Neal Olkewicz, a rookie from Maryland, has replaced Don Hover in the middle. For Wysocki, the victory over the Browns is one to savor, but he is on the spot again this week, and he knows it.
"When Neal and I got there, they started working on us," Wysocki recalled. "But he's a great instinctive football player and so, when I missed a tackle, there was Neal making the play . . . I had a good time; I was having a great time last Sunday. I felt great . . . It was just plain flat-out fun.
"I guess that's way you go through practice and training camp and all the emotional ups and downs that you have. That's what you root for.
"I just hope I don't let the team down now. We've got some important games coming up. The Eagles -- I'm sure they're going to be running at me and do different things to try and trick me. Okay, that's okay with me, I'm not going to be hiding. There are no trees on a football field. You can't hide behind any bushes.
"I'm sure they'll try to isolate half-backs on me or use misdirection plays. There's any number of ways they can try to load up on me with a dougle-team block. The Eagles are a good football team and they don't have to be tricky. They can beat you straight up. I'm sure they're licking their chops over in Philadelphia."
Since signing with Washington as a free agent following four seasons in the Canadian Football League, the last as an All-CFL linebacker, Wysocki has had to settle for gaining a reputation as one of the best special teams' players in the NFL. He was given first crack at replacing Chris Hanburger at right linebacker this year and Milot did not take over the No. 1 job until the week before the opening game.
Wysocki sulked -- it's natural, he said -- but he showed class by not publicly complaining. He gained support from his teammates and his family.
"I've got a mortgage to pay," Wysocki said. "So I try to do the best job I can and keep ready. I would have like to have played from the scrimmage. Rich is a heck of a linebacker and he's going to be a great linbacker. He came from a background of excellent linebackers. I felt bad because I wasn't playing. But there's nothing you can do about that. You just go ahead about your business and do the best job you can, whenever you're called on to play. Stay professional and watch your attitude, and that's it." c
Wysocki said he recovered from 98 percent of his depression in two weeks. The day the coaching staff told him Milot would start, Wysocki looked like he had lost his best friend.
"It was important to me," he said. "It's not like you're talking about a pickup game. It's my job. My pride is affected. You feel bad if you're worth anything. You have a feeling about the job you do -- not just playing football, but any job. "You want to lead the pack and be the best at what you're doing. It hurts to be told at that time you're not the best at what you're doing."
That Wysocki survived his first Redskin training camp after signing as a free agent is, itself, a testimonial to the Western Michigan product, said Kirk Mee, a Redskin offensive assistant. Mee, under George Allen, worked closely with the linebackers, especially in training new players.
"He signed after all George's minicamps were through," recalled Mee. "We worked everyday in the classroom, on the field and, afterward, watching films. I was very impressed the way he comprehended the system academically."
The clincher came in a mail-in test, which is somewhat like a college open-book or take-home exam. Wysocki returned the test swiftly, answering the questions and drawing the diagrams in a color-coded scheme. He graded almost 100 percent, Mee said.
"I had done that before with other linebackers," Mee recalled. "They were sloppy or a week or two late. He knew what he was supposed to do to get the job done. Other guys tried to take shortcuts."
Pardee closed practice yesterday. He described the workout as a "good, hard practice." It was intense enough that offensive tackle Greg Dubinetz and defensive tackle Coy Bacon scuffled near the end of the two-hour drills . . . Fullback John Riggins was sick and not able to participate fully . . . .Cornerback Joe Lavender's injured left knee prevented him from participating in most of the drills, but he says he will be ready . . . Tight end Jean Fugett, who missed the Browns game with a knee injury, said he is improving, but that his availability is still a "day-to-day thing" . . . The Eagles list quarterback Ron Jaworski (angle) and guard Petey Perot (knee) as questionable, but Eagle publicist Jim Gallagher said both went through entire workouts yesterday.