Rich Milot thinks he is going to be busy Monday night against the cowboys.
"Make that very busy," he said. "But that is to be expected. If I was Dallas, I'd make sure I was occupied too."
What the Cowboys are going to do, Milot believes, is run right at him from the start of the game. That way, they will find out quickly whether the Redskins' new middle linebacker is a liability in the Washington defense.
Milot already had been scheduled for a heavy workload against the Cowboys. Besides his special teams duties, he was going to replace starter Neal Olkewicz on obvious passing downs. But that was before Olkewicz came up with a bad knee that probably will keep him sideline the whole game.
Now Milot will log as much playing time as anyone on the defensive unit. That is a difficult way to make a debut as a professional middle linebacker, especially when a national television audience will be watching.
What makes Milot's position even more extraordinary is that, prior to July, he had never played a down in the middle, in high school, college or his first year as a pro. But the Redskins wanted to give their defense more flexibilty at that position, so they moved Milot in from the outside to see if he could back up Olkewicz.
"I feel a lot more comfortable in the middle now than I did in July," Milot said yesterday. "I feel better there every week. It's getting easier and easier to fulfill my duties, although I've still got a lot to learn.
"Of anyone on our defense, I would have to be the most suspect, since I've never played here before. So Dallas would be crazy not to come after me. But I hope they do. I think I can play the spot, and I want to find out in a game. If they try me early, I'll get a good idea real fast."
Milot knows what it is like to be put on the spot in the NFL. Last year, as a rookie, he was moved ahead of Pete Wysocki on the outside the week of the season opener against Houston. He expected the Oilers to test him frequently in that game, but they hardly ever ran his way. Six weeks later, he fractured his wrist and played little the rest of the year.
"There is a heck of a lot of difference between this year and last year," he said. "Last year I didn't even know if I belonged in the league. I didn't have any confidence.
"This year, I know more about myself. Maybe it's maturity and confidence.
But I feel a lot more comfortable.
Olkewicz and Milot represent a startling physical contrast. Milot is rangy (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) while Olkewicz is stocky (6-0, 223) and relies more on anticipation and a fierce desire to play. Olkewicz is better against the run. Milot is superior on pass coverage. He also has more natural ability, one reason the coaches have tried to give him more playing time. Milot is a Jack Lambert type; Olkewicz is more like a Nick Buoniconti.
"Since Rich hasn't had as much expe rience as we might like in the middle, he represents a question mark in the game," Coach Jack Pardee said. "But we have all the confidence in the world in Rich. He's really come along very quickly. He got an awful lot of playing time in the preseason, which is a plus right now. He still has things to learn, but I think he is ready to play a good game Monday night."
Milot says he had trouble early in camp "taking care of drw plays. In the middle, you can't sit around and wait to read backs. On the outside, you could look for reads. I found I had to just react a lot quicker, there were so many more people around to worry about. But I've been a lot better against draws lately. They don't worry me anymore."
Olkewicz and Milot have lockers next to each other and have a friendly Maryland-Penn State rivalry. But Milot certainly didn't anticipate getting more playing time through the misfortunes of his friend, although Olkewicz is accepting his injury with his usual good nature.
"Right now, my biggest problem has been Neal," Milot said with a big smile. "He keeps telling me, 'Run away from the flow, run away from the flow.'"
"I'm just trying to be helpful, that's all," Olkewicz said, laughing.
Pardee said tight end Don Warren, who has a hairline leg fracture, still could play Monday. "We hope he can go full speed in a week. He'll want to play."
Pardee said the team "is as prepared as we can be for the first game. We think we have covered all the eventualities that you might run into.