When the owner talked openly about winning the Super Bowl and the starting fullback walked out of training camp, most Redskins hardly even winced. Nothing could extinguish the low-key feeling among the players that something good is about to happen to them this season.
"We've got a chance to do something that only a few teams can do," linebacker Pete Wysocki said. "The ingredients are there. We just need to keep together and produce the way we know we can."
Of course, getting Wilbur Jackson in trade as John Riggins' replacement didn't hurt. Jackson is good enough to at least make up for some of Riggins' talents. An besides, the Redskins openly admit they were tiring of talking and thinking and thinking about Riggins' absence.
The Redskins are good enough to stay with anyone in the NFC and probably talented enough to give most AFC contenders a good run. They also have little margin for error. The Redskins on a bad day won't be able to beat most teams in the league, and they know it.
That margin of error -- and the optimism of the players -- has been stretched severely by the latest walkouts involving Lemar Parrish and Joe Lavender. Without them and Riggins, a playoff trip will be difficult.
Still, there are better receivers than last year, better ofensive line depth and the halfbacks should produce more yardage than Benny Malone did.If Jeris White can make up for lost time after his four-week holdout, the secondary will be as deep as any in the league, especially now that newcomer Mike Nelms has emerged as a sleeper at free safety.
Those young linebackers, who determined so much of what happened in 1979, are better and bigger and stronger. Mark Moseley is kicking as consistently as ever and defensive ends Karl Lorch and Coy Bacon have played well in the preseason.
Still, so much depends on a few positions. Quarterback Joe Theismann, coming off an outstanding season, must continue to improve. Moseley can't go into a slump, halfback Buddy Hardeman must reward the faith shown in him by the coaching staff, Ken Houston must have one more good year at strong safety.
Considering the doubts that surrounded his abilities prior to last season, the man the coaches now affectionately call "No. 7" had a stunning year in 1979, finishing second to Roger Staubach in conference statistics. This year, he should be even better.
"We can go as far as Joe can take use," Coach Jack Pardee said. "Of course, we need more than just him. But he's had a fine camp and he's good enough to make us a very good team."
Theismann should benefit from an upgraded receiving corps. The addition of rookie Art Monk alone should help, though he hardly will be a savior. Pardee says Monk doesn't "have the blinding speed of a Lam Jones or a Lynn Swann. He's going to make good catches and a lot of them, but we still don't have a speed burner."
Monk at least can catch going over the middle, something the Redskins lacked last year. Ricky Thompson and John McDaniel are steady and rookie Zion McKinney may prove to be a talented as Monk.
Hardeman can get to the outside quicker than Malone, so the Redskins expect greater production from the halfback spot this season. Much also rides on how well Jackson, who three times has gained more than 700 yards in his career, can adapt to the Redskin system. If he is consistent from the fullback position, then opponents won't find Washington as one-dimensional on the ground.
Reliable Clarence Harmon returns to fill his third-down Mr. Clutch role. He is one reason the Washington two-minute drill is among the league's best. And if Riggins returns, so much the better.
The offensive line is more steady than spectacular, though guard Jeff Williams could be an emerging star. There is still great concern about depth at tackle behind Terry Hermeling and George Starke. If Fred Dean can handle that reserve role, an injury to either starter may not be such a devastating blow.
With Jean Fugett probably sitting out this season as a free agent, second-year man Don Warren will start at tight end. He is an improving receiver and a potentially fine blocker who will share time with his ex-San Diego State teammate, Phil DuBois.
The offense finished with a flurry in 1979, scoring at least 30 points in five of its last six games. But the Redskin defense couldn't hold subtantial leads against Dallas at the end of the season. The defense probably will determine how far the club goes this time around. So far, however, Pardee says he sees reasons to be optimistic.
At 37, Bacon should be slowing down. Instead, Pardee claims he may be "one of the best defensive ends in the league right now. He's playing better than he ever has." And Lorch is having his best camp while increasing his sack total.
An improved pass rush was one of the Redskins' goals entering training camp. Because of Lorch and Bacon, there were signs that this goal would be met. But over the long run, the club must get better pressure from tackles Dave Butz and Perry Brooks, who will get the majority of playing time at Diron Talbert's old position.
"Perry has done everything in camp we had hoped for," Pardee said. "He looks as if he is ready for full-time play, just like he said he would be."
Depth along the line remains a question mark. Talbert still has some good plays left but Mat Mendenhall, the No. 2 draft choice from Brigham Young, still is not far enough along to provide reliable backup at end. That job may fall to veteran Joe Jones, still a pass rushing threat.
Linebacking was considered a major weakness prior to last season, but now the Redskins are overloaded at the three positions. Monte Coleman, an 11th-round pick in 1979, has all-pro potential but won't start. Instead, he'll be spotted both on special teams and on scrimmage plays while Pardee sticks with outside backers Brad Dusek and Pete Wysocki. Middle linebacker Neal Milot, who has made a successful conversion from the outside. l
With White now in uniform, the secondary could be outstanding. Houston, the perennial Pro Owler, reported in excellent condition and should have a fine season. Nelms is pushing Mark Murphy at free safety while Parrish and Lavender, if they return to the team, both should benefit from White's presence at cornerback. Pardee will shuttle in a lot of players and employ many formations in an attempt to reduce the effectiveness of opposition passers.
The Redskins still are not very quick, though they are not as slow as last season. They lack a breakaway threat at halfback and depth remains a problem at some positions. If Theismann falters, if Bacon gets hurt, if Moseley slumps, if the holdouts don't come back, the Redskins could fall quickly.
"Things haven't changed that much from the end of last season," Pardee said. "I think we are as good as anyone in our conference, as long as our new backfield works out. Jackson has to fit in.
"But we need everyone to play well. We'll use a lot of players, keep them all fresh and ask them to play as hard as they can. Then we just have to cut down on our bad days and go from there."