Joe Lavender reported to training camp tonight, and with contract talks with Jeris White possibly ready to move off dead center, the Redskins were left wondering when John Riggins will return to uniform.
Riggins, who walked out of camp Sunday, did not talk to team officials today about the circumstances surrounding his departure. They are convinced he is bothered by some personal problems that he wants to straighten out but Coach Jack Pardee said he would still "like to talk to him and see if we can help him."
Lavender talked to Pardee before coming in and informed him that he had been held up by personal circumstances.
"Things just piled up on him at the end before he came to camp," Pardee said. "He'll be fined (at $500 a day) because he should have checked with us first before he decided not to come in."
Bobby Beathard, the general manager, said he talked today with White's agent, Howard Slusher, and gave him a slightly reworked contract proposal.
"Howard said he would get back to me," Beathard said. "We didn't change much but Howard indicated it might get things moving again. That's the important thing."
Meanwhile, halfback Benny Malone, who walked out of last year's camp because of a contract dispute, indicated today that his continual money problems with the club involved more than a simple conflict over negotiations.
"There is more to it than that," Malone said, "but it's something I'd rather not talk about right now. Things are involved that make it harder."
Malone is on the verge of finally signing a new pact instead of playing out his option. But he talked today as if he is not optimistic about his future with the club.
"I think I can play in this league for someone," he said. "I'd like to play here, but once you prove you can play with one team in this league I think that means you can play for anyone."
Malone hinted that while he was considering "non-football matters" that could prove more profitable contemplating leaving camp again he [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] than sports.
Malone admits he is bothered by his demotion from No. 1 running back to a reserve spot behind Buddy Hardeman. "I thought I had a good year. I know I could have run for more yards but I blocked well. The coaches say that."
Hardeman likewise says he feels strange about the current circumstances. He finished last season on the injured reserve list recovering from a broken jaw, and now he finds himself in a starting position.
"This has never happened to me quite this way," he said. "Usually I have to climb and beat out the guy ahead of me. I've never been installed in the top spot before."
Hardeman said he would "much rather come into training camp and work my way up to the top. I'm used to dealing with that. Now, I know if I mess up at any time, I'm gone. All eyes are on me. I'm sure I will feel more comfortable as time goes on, but for now it sure is strange."
Pardee tried to downplay the issue today.
"We are just experimenting right now," he said. "It really isn't that important who is running first string. We are taking a look at a lot of people.
"Benny's contract problems didn't enter into our thinking. We want to work with Buddy. He can do a lot of things -- run, catch passes, block well -- and we want to see if he has the ability to play more than just in passing situations, like we used him last year.
"It's more important who we play later on in camp, when we get into our down-and-distance decisions. By then we hope to have things sorted out better."
Of course, Clarence Harmon is still very much a factor in the halfback race, but as long as Riggins stays out, he is tied up at fullback. Nor would the Redskins be willing to move Harmon to full-time halfback if they can't find a quality backup for Riggins during the camp.
"I'd say Buddy and Clarence are as even as they could be," said Fred O'Conner, the backfield coach. "If one has a great camp, then we'll have to look at him very seriously. $"What's important to remember is that we need to get the ball into both Clarence and Buddy's hands more than we did last year. We have to have starters, but both are going to play a lot. They were productive for us and we need to get even more out of them."
Malone, a starter in 1979 after Washington traded Mike Thomas, averaged only 2.7 yards a carry. Riggins, who gained more than 1,000 yards, credited his running mate with consistently fine blocking, but the Redskins this year want a better running threat in that position.
"Buddy has worked very hard in the offseason to build himself up," Pardee said. "He's earned a shot at the job. He gives us some real versatility." Hardeman weighed 194 last year, is now at 205 and says, "just a heck of a lot stronger."
Malone, likewise, has lifted weights to increase his leg strength. He has a history of pulled muscles but says he feels strong and ready to go. "Some guys go in spurts, but I can go the distance.
"I hope they keep an open mind about the job. I'm going to compete very hard for it. I think it will be a photo finish down to the wire. Then it will be up to the coaches to pick the right guy."
Rookie linebacker Farley Bell, the team's sixth-round draft choice, did not show up for today's afternoon workout. "I have to assume he has left camp," Pardee said, "but he hasn't said anything to me" . . . Defensive tackle Paul Smith arrived today and will practice Tuesday. He was given permission to be late . . . The Redskins had a scare when quarterback Joe Theismann was cut down from behind during a drill. He scrambled up and continued to work out . . . Diron Talbert was playing ahead of challenger Perry Brooks at defensive tackle.