Art Monk, the Redskins' first No. 1 draft choice in more than a decade, will be the center of attention when the team's rookies, free agents and selected veterans open training camp today in Carlisle, Pa.
Although Monk has looked good enough in minicamps and informal workouts at Redskin Park to convince the coaches he is a bona fide talent, he now must produce under the pressure of two-a-day practices, intense heat and what promises to be spirited competition from a host of other wide receivers.
"I have confidence that Art will do just fine in camp," Coach Jack Pardee said. "He's a quiet guy but he wants to do well. He's benefited from spending time at the park and picking up our offense and getting used to our quarterbacks.
"We aren't going to rush him. He isn't going to be our savior, and he has to realize we don't expect him to be. We just want him to relax and play like we know he can."
It may not be easy for Monk or any other Redskin to relax at this camp, which Pardee promises will be just as tough as last year's grueling five-week ordeal.Several veterans mumbled about that camp's toughness and amount of physical contact.
"I think it will be about the same as last year, maybe even harder," Pardee said. "We found out that the camp prepared us well for the preseason and you need that type of camp to make sure you are ready, both physically and mentally.
"We are going to have even more competition for positions than last year and that will help.People won't be able to relax. With the work everyone has put in at the park in the offseason, I think the players will be in shape. We can get going from the opening gun."
The bulk of the 91-member squad doesn't report to Dickinson College until next Saturday. By then, Pardee will have had 11 practices to judge the quality of his new players, which include seven draft choices, a bonanza by past Washington standards.
Besides Monk, other promising new players include No. 2 pick Mat Mendenhall, a defensive end from Brigham Young; safety Bill Nelms, a return man and defensive star who played in Canada last year; receiver Morris Owen, who was obtained in a trade with Tampa Bay, as was talented cornerback Jeris White; defensive end Mike Matocha, an 11th round pick from Texas-Arlington, who is very quick; linebacker Farley Bell, sixth-round choice from Cincinnati who could become a special-teams star, and guard Melvin Jones, a seventh-round choice from Houston, who has the ability to become a starter.
Most of those players were examined by the Redskin staff long before camp. But others also have caught the eye of Pardee and his assistants during spring and early summer workouts at Redskin Park.
Among these longshots are wide receiver Steve Stapler, a 5-foot-11, 163-pound free agent from San Diego State who has good hands and is perhaps the fastest man on the team; fullback Ron Harkless, a 5-10, 215-pound free agent from Nicholls State who will compete with veteran Don Testerman for a backup spot to John Riggins; and running backs Sam Thomas, who did not go college, and Rickey Claitt, from Bethune-Cookman, both of whom should get a lot of work at next Saturday's rookie scrimmage against Baltimore in Annapolis.
Competition will be intense. Pardee predicts only six to eight roster changes from last year. If White, Monk, Nelms and Mendenhall are given spots, that leaves only two to four additional openings, not many considering the quality of athletes the Redskins feel they will be testing.
Monk will be working from the very start with quarterbacks Joe Theismann, Kim McQuilken and Fred Mortensen. It probably won't take them long to find out how much long-yardage help he will add this season.
At 6-3 and 210, Monk is the big, swift receiver the Redskins have lacked since Charley Taylor retired. He will be tested going over the middle, where his size could make a big difference as compared with last year.
"Art will have a lot of new stuff thrown at him, just like everyone else," General Manager Bobby Beathard said."Their heads will be spinning. Just when they think they all have it down, they'll get more to absorb. And then the veterans will show up and things will get really tight for them.
"That's why the first few weeks of camp are really difficult. This is a complicated business and, with two-a-day workouts and the heat and all, it's not a whole lot of fun."
The first week of camp also will give Pardee a chance to take a good look at free-agent punters Mike Michel and Mike Connell, both of whom will push veteran Mike Bragg. The Redskins also are hoping defensive tackle Perry Brooks will get off to a quick beginning in his quest for Diron Talbert's starting position.
"Unlike other years, we don't have the luxury of nursing any young players along," Pardee said. "We can't keep roster spots open for them to develop.
"They've got to come in here and give us a reason to keep them.Or they better be good special-teams players."
Just like most other observers, Pardee is anxious to see who the surprise of this camp will be. Last year, the honor was shared by linebacker Monte Coleman, who was better than anyone expected, and linebacker Neal Olkewicz, who gained everyone's immediate attention with his crackling tackles.
"I'm always anxious to get things going, but this year I'm really ready," Pardee said. "Everyone has worked so hard in the offseason. It should be a great camp."