It is one of those classic training camp confrontations that add a human touch to what otherwise can become a day-to-day survival test against sweat, fatigue and the elements.
One player, Ron Saul, is 32 years old, in his 11th season, the prototypal pro guard from years past: fireplug shape, pudgy arms and legs, the scars from hundreds of battles in the pits giving his body the look of a valiant warrior.
The other, Dan Nugent, is almost 27, in his fourth season, young, handsome and sleek with matinee-idol eyes and the kind of physique scouts scan the country for. He is quick and sure. His body is still relatively untouched expept for a small mark on his lower back.
Saul versus Nugent. The constant football struggle between the old and the young, between experience and vitality, is reflected in their daily battle for Saul's left guard position.
Saul has occupied that spot since 1976, after coming to the Redskins from Houston for three draft choices. Off the field, he could not be more pleasant, nor more popular among his teammates. But in pads, he is a fierce competitor who has overcome what he may lack in natural ability with a determination that most opponents cannot handle.
How else can you explain the blocking job he did on the Cowboy's Randy White, the Dallas "Manster" with Thrope-like athletic gifts, in last December's memorable season finale" "He just dominated White," said line coach Ray Callahan. "It was something to watch."
Nugent also has been a starter. In 1978, he was in the forefront of the Redskins' New Deal under Coach Jack Pardee. He had the kind of natural talent Pardee wanted in his front line.
But a weight-lifting accident while he was rehabilitating a knee injured in the winter of 1979 threatened Nugent's career. He had disrupted a spinal disk and the pain didn't go away until surgery was performed. While he sat out last season, another gifted athlete, Jeff Williams, moved into his right guard position and emerged as a potential all-pro.
Now, with Williams secure as a starter, Nugent must beat out a player he considers a friend. It was easier before, when he and Saul could play on either side of the center Bob Kuziel. There was less strain and more security.
"Ronnie and I have never really talked about this camp," Nugent said. We both know what's going on. They move me to his side right away. It was easy for me to see who I had to go up against.
"We both know this is our livelihood. We both have families to worry about and mouths to feed. But I don't think that means we have to stop being friends. You've got to keep the two separate."
This is not the first time Saul has faced competition. "Been like this for 11 years," he says, probably without exaggeration. Perhaps it's the way he slowly pulls himself from the bottom of piles, or the way he always seems more worn than anyone else. He just sems like the guy someone should be able to beat out.
But looks have rarely been more deceiving. He does not have the great quickness you would like in a guard nor does he do things with natural fluidity. Yet he will claw and scratch and dig and shrug off bruises and produce with the consistency coaches admire.
Only when he gets nicked, especially in his legs, do his performances falter. He hasn't enough leeway to overcome anything that could slow him a fraction. And the way he plays, his body rarely makes it through a season without some discomfort.
Saul realized long before camp that this could be the end of a career for him. So he settled into an arduous daily routine at Redskin Park. Accompanied by his 8-year-old son Brian, he would arrive around 9 a.m. and stay until 4 p.m. or later, lifting weights, running, playing racquetball. Already one of the strongest Redskins, he arrived here in the best shape of his career.
"I feel stronger than I ever have," Saul said. "I think I'm moving just as well. There will come a time when you lose it, when you don't have the extra step that you need. But I don't think that has happened to me yet.
"I worked hard in the off season. I was ready for this camp. But the important thing to me is that all the competition for jobs is done within a team concept. We don't need any dissension resulting from it. That's not going to do anyone any good."
Nugent's preparation also started long before camp. He underwent back surgery in September and began a long rehabilitation process that culminated the first week of camp, at which point he survived his first contract without pain in almost two years.
"My first concern here was not about starting, but about playing," he said."If the back hurts, that's it, that's my career.
"I figure you had to crawl before you walk. Now with that out of the way, I can concentrate on my techniques. I think I'm at a point where I'm not worrying how my back feels. Some nights it is sore but that is to be expected.
Nugent says his whole approach to football has changed in a year. Before, he accepted his athletic gifts -- he can run the 40 in 4.8 seconds and was a tight end in college -- but now he tries "to make sure I don't waste what I have. I'm so pleased that I'm out here and playing again, I don't want to waste my chance.
"I also realize that they aren't going to give me anything. I'm not going to walk in here and start. Ronnie is too good and he's been around too long. I just have to worry about myself and not about whether they are playing us the same or giving us the same chance to show what we can do."
The Redskins have always wanted Nugent to be more ferocious on the field, to develop the kind of instincts that have carried Saul for so long. He has made progress in that area this summer while steadily regaining the skills of two years ago.
"He's not all the way back to where he was," said Callahan, "but he is getting there. We have to talk to him about keeping low on his blocks and things like that.
"It will take time but I think he has made remarkable progress. But Ronnie sure didn't come in here like a man who wanted to lose a job. He was in tremendous shape. He always has been strong, but if anything, he was stronger. The completion has been great."
For now, Saul has a definite edge as Nugent shakes off the rustiness. But there are still weeks to go before the opener against Dallas and another confrontation against White.
"The guy who starts that game," said Callahan, "should be at the peak of his game. And against Randy White, he better be."