Jack Pardee is coping with a player dilemma that illustrates as well as anything the amazing development of this year's Redskin personnel.
Pardee would love to find playing time for rookie linebacker Rich Milot, who is nearly 100 percent recovered after fracturing his left forearm five weeks ago.
But in Milot's absence, the combination of Pete Wysocki and rookie Monte Coleman has handled Milot's right linebacker spot so well that Pardee refuses to make any changes for Sunday's game against the Giants.
Having such an excess of ability at linebacker is a far cry from the situation facing Pardee entering his team's Carlisle training camp.
Beyond veteran Brad Dusek, Pardee wasn't sure who was going to man the remaining linebacking positions. Although Wysocki was a veteran, he lacked NFL starting experience. Middle linebacker Harold McLinton was aging, Dallas Hickman still was making the transition from end, Don Hover was untested and there was a group of low-round draft picks and free agents trying to catch the coach's eye.
By the opening game, Pardee had decided to gamble and go with inexperience in the middle (Hover) and raw youth on the outside (Milot). Later, rookie Neal Olkewicz replaced Hover and Wysocki-Coleman took over for Milot, who had won his starting job on what Pardee thought was "his potential to make big plays with some great natural ability."
Now even that fine natural talent isn't enough for Milot to work his way off the special teams. The once-questionable Redskin defense is improving weekly and the Wysocki-Coleman duo is a major reason for the development.
"Pete really wasn't playing poorly in preseason when Rich replaced him," Pardee said. "The one thing we wanted Pete to work on was his tackling against the run. He and Dallas both were rusty on one-on-one situations and they hadn't had that much game experience.
"Pete has improved every week since he got in there. He's more confident and he's responding better to game situations. He's starting to get some hits. He's very physical and he's taking on lead blockers head-on and banging them. He's not soft at all against the run.
"And Monte keeps getting better and better. We knew right along he had ability but because of his college background, we thought he was a little behind Rich and would take longer to develop.
"But since he has gotten in there, he's picked things up fast. We're getting a lot of tackles out of that spot. I don't see any reason to change it, although I think Rich is capable now of coming in and filling in nicely for us."
Wysocki, who plays predominantly on running downs, and Coleman, who comes in on likely passing plays, have combined for 11 and 13 tackles in the last two weeks. Opponents suddenly are finding it just as hard to work on the right side of the Redskin defense as the left, where they must defeat the tough Dusek.
"They still come at us every week," Wysocki said, "because they see me there and Coy (Bacon) has a reputation of being better as a pass rusher at end.
"But it's tougher now for anyone to gain on us. Coy and I get along well, we work together well. I know the more I play, the better I feel and the more confident I'm playing. That helps Coy.
"I haven't had this much fun and enjoyed football this much in a long time. But that is what people don't understand about this team. We are all having fun. Even when we lost a couple, there was no backbiting. We stayed together and kept working at it.
"That's why we aren't going to fold. We're getting better every week because we're pushing each other."
Wysocki, who had waited five years for a chance to start, admittedly was disappointed at his benching earlier this season. But he refused to criticize the switch, a reflection of what Pardee calls "his maturity, especially from playing so long on the special teams. He learned to cope with his position and to be a team player."
Now Milot is learning to cope with his current situation. And he, too, appears to be accepting it with particular grace in this age of the outspoken athelete.
"Oh, I'm getting itchy and I think I can play," Milot said. "But Pete and Monte are playing well, I can see that. So why make a change? They are doing the job.
"There has always been a little bit of me that is glad to see Pete starting and playing well. He's the kind of guy you root for, because of his attitude and all.
"And there also is a bit of me that wishes I never had been hurt and that I was out there playing. It was worse the first few weeks, when I couldn't play. I got depressed, but that's past now."
Milot is convinced that he has grown into a better player by sitting on the bench these last five weeks.
"By sitting back, relaxing and watching films and working in practice, I've improved," he said."I'll emerge a better player. I wasn't playing as well as I wanted and now I've seen where I could improve.
"In practice, I'm working on techniques that will help me play better. I realize this isn't a career injury. I just have to hope this will put any injury problems behind me."
Since shortening the cast on his left arm, Milot has regained much of the mobility in his hand. He says he still lacks some strength, "and I can't move it as far as I'd like," but he feels he now is "about 95 percent. Last week, it was only 80 percent, so I'm encouraged by that."
Pardee is convinced that Milot's lack of playing time won't impede his future development. Quite the contrary, the coach is convinced that all his young players will benefit handsomely from what they do this coming offseason.
"When I was a rookie," Pardee said, "I thought I was the smartest thing going. But by the start of my second training camp, I realized how dumb I really was.
"With the way all these young people have played, it's going to make us so much stronger at linebacker in the future. Rich and the rest of them will realize how far they have come the first day of camp next summer."
Then Pardee smiled.
"Before the season, we said some of these people had to come through for us to be strong at linebacker," he said. "Now the spot is a strength, something you could never anticipate. Dallas Hickman deserves more time, too, but we just don't have the minutes."
The Redskins ran through a snappy practice yesterday. Asked why, Pardee laughed and said: "They can count," referring to Dallas' loss Thanksgiving that knocked the Cowboys out of first place in the NFC East . . . Just as significant to Washington's playoff hopes, however, was Chicago's loss to Detroit. That defeat put the Bears on the brink of elimination from the NFC playoff picture, leaving the Redskins, Dallas and Philadelphia to carve up the East title and the conference's two wild-card spots . . . Ike Forte (sore back) worked out and is expected to play Sunday . . . Pardee is more impressed with the running ability of Phil Simms, the Giants' rookie quarterback, than with Simms' passing. And he is wondering aloud whether New York will play more 4-3 defense than normal this weekend in an attempt to confuse his team.