The Redskins, attempting to end what an assistant coach, John Hilton, called "a fiasco" on their special teams, cut longtime punter Mike Bragg yesterday in favor of former free agent Mike Connell.
Waived with Bragg, who had been with the Redskins a team-high 12 years, were guard Dan Nugent, a former starter trying to return from back surgery; saftey Don Harris, another special teams star; tight end Grady Richardson, who played in three games last year; defensive tackle Chris Godfrey, who had been an early camp standout, and wide receiver Steve Stapler, a free agent from San Diego State.
In cutting its roster to 50, Washington also placed wide receiver Morris Owens, obtained from Tampa Bay in an offseason trade, on injured reserve (with a sprained ankle) along with MikeGibbons, a free agent tackle who had been given a chance of staying with the team until Fred Dean played so well at tackle against Oakland Saturday night.
Although Bragg had been hardpressed by Connell since the start of training camp, his departure still stunned his teammates, many of whom thought the club would wait until after the final exhibition game Friday at Tampa Bay to make a decision on thepunters.
"He woke up a couple of days before the Cleveland game with a sore neck and then he had weakness in his arm," Moseley said. "He had no strength in his right arm. But he wasn't going to use that as an excuse. He really didn't mention it to anyone."
Bragg did not talk about his neck yesterday. He knew that his job was in jeopardy when, after an inconsistent season last year, the Redskins brought veterans Mike Michel and Connell to training camp. But the news of his dismissal shocked him.
"Yeah, I was surprised," said the man called "Gumpy" by his teammates. "They must see lots of potential in Mike Connell. He's younger than I am and he's probably making half the salary. So they are gambling and seeing if they are right. "I had a real good game against Cleveland. If I could punt like that all year, I would lead the league. I didn't think I was kicking that badly, but you never know what they are thinking."
Neither Connell nor Bragg had been particularly impressive in preseason games, but Hilton said Connell had been more consistent during practices and had had better hang times, the time the punt is in the air.
"Hang time is important to us," Hilton said, "because it looks like we are going to have new cover men this year and we have to give them time to get down field. Mike (Connell) has a live leg and his ball consistently hung up at 4.5 seconds or more. Bragg had trouble getting it to 4.3 or 4.4."
The coaches were concerned about the special teams' problems during training camp: among other things, Bragg had one punt blocked and another partially deflected against Oakland, Connell had a snap sail over his head against Cleveland and the Raidersalmost returned a kickoff for a score.
"We've had trouble with our snapper (Ted Fritsch) and with using so many punters, but going into the Tampa game, we wanted to settle everything down and settle on one punter and get him with the snapper," Coach Jack Pardee said. "Mike (Bragg) is a very popular guy and it's made our centers press on snaps. We wanted to tie things down and eliminate things we shouldn't have been thinking about.
"This was a very difficult decision. But Mike Connell has an awfully good leg, a good snap to it, and he kicks theball awfully high. He has a better leg right now than Mike.
"Now we are giving him a chance to kick without having to press to beat anyone anymore. Mike has kicked the ball long and high over a consistent period of time. Mike (Bragg) was having a hard time in practice giving us enough kicks to help out our return men,too. We need a lot of kicks each day from our punters."
Connell , a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from the University of Cincinnati, kicked for San Francisco as a rookie and averaged 37.3 yards despite several early season bad snaps.
But the 49ers, who had drafted him on the 10th round in 1978, let him go after two exhibition games last summer and he returned to Cincinnati, where he worked for a steel company until March. He then impressed the Redskins in a tryout and has kicked consistently.
"This is good for me, it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders," he said. "But it surprised me.I kind of expected a decision to be made after Tampa Bay.
"I've been at both ends, so I know how Mike Bragg feels. But I have worked hard for this, believe me. I'veworked very hard."
Connell said he realized that Bragg,a quiet, hard-working man, was well-liked by teammates "and that they hate to see him go. I just have to do my job the best way I can and keep my mouth shut. I don't talk much anyway. I just kick the ball. If I do that right, everything will work out."
Hilton has more than just punting on his mind. Harris and Monte Coleman were the ends of his punt coverage team last year. Harris now is gone and Coleman is scheduled for less special teams duty and more defensive action.
"We've got to break in some new people and get this straightened out," Hilton said. "I think we have the blocked punts handled. Grady Richardson missed the timing on snap counts againstOakland and you can't do that. It's been a fiasco situation."
Hilton agreed that releasing Bragg is a gamble that "could backfire." He also admitted that two years ago the club probably should have kept George Roberts, now with Miami, instead of releasing him. The Redskins didn't want to make the same mistake with Connell.
"It wouldn't surprise me if Mike (Bragg) winds up with Dallas," Hilton said. "They need a veteran kicker. It wouldn't surprise me at all."
Bragg said he would entertain an offer from another club "but it will be hard not being a Redskin. I've been a Redskin fan since I've been 10. It's all I've wanted. I guess I'll just have to be a normal person again. I really don't expect to be picked up. It's 50-50, but I'm going nuts already waiting."
For most of his distinguished career Bragg was the heart of the Redskins' fine special teams. He played in 172 straight games, never missing one in 12 years. He had only two punts blocked the last eight years, with his best average a 43.3 mark in his rookie season, 1968.
Bragg returned to Redskin Park lateyesterday to clean out his locker. Teammates shook hands with him. They wished him good luck. Many couldn't look him in the eye.
"Now Gumpy," Brad Dusek said, "when you catch on with the Cowboys, don't come back and haunt us with a lot of long punts."
"Yeah, all you want is popups, right?" Bragg said with a small smile.
Dallas Coach Tom Landry announced yesterday that rookie running backs James Jones of Mississippi State and Tim Newsome of Winston-Salem were full-fledged Cowboys.
That was bad news for six-year veteran Scott Laidlaw, who was cut. Either Larry Brinson or Preston Pearson faces the ax in next week's final cutdown.
The San Diego Charger waived halfback Lydell Mitchell, the No. 11 man all-time among NFL runners. Theman who beat out Mitchell, 31, was rookie LaRue Harrington of Norfolk State.
Ex-Redskin Mike Thomas was placed on a special reserve list because of a knee jury suffered during an offseason racquetball match.