The Redskins, attempting to bolster their lagging running game, have moved Wilbur Jackson from fullback to halfback and apparently will start him against the Giants Sunday if he adapts to his new position quickly enough.
Jackson, who was obtained from San Francisco for two second-round draft choices, was paired with rookie fullback Rickey Claitt in yesterday's afternoon practice.
When asked if he was making major backfield starting changes involving Jackson and Claitt, Coach Jack Pardee, who usually does not announce lineup switches, said, "Everyone will play. This is a way to get more stability in our backfield. It's a way to get four or five backs involved. They are all starters."
But two Redskin players said that they were sure the club was leaning toward starting both Jackson and Claitt off what they saw in practice yesterday.
Pardee did say yesterday that he wants to play linebacker Monte Coleman as much as possible and will keep Coleman in the starting lineup even if Brad Dusek is healthy enough to play. Either Dusek or Pete Wysocki will be paired with Coleman at the other outside linebacker spot.
Regarding Jackson, Pardee said, "Right now, we will use Wilbur more at halfback than fullback. We liked the way he looked in practice.
"We've been pleased with Rickey Claitt at fullback. We wanted to find ways to be able to use all three of our fullbacks, especially the way we are nicked up in the backfield.
"If Rickey was our third-string fullback, he wouldn't get much playing time. But now with him and Clarence Harmon sharing the spot, we can use both and keep Clarence fresh for third downs."
Pardee said that the switch of Jackson "could turn out to give us a real big backfield. But we were hurting at halfback. Buddy Hardeman has a sprained ankle and with Ike Forte injured, we needed some help."
Hardeman, who has been the starting halfback since training camp, did not practice yesterday because of the ankle sprain. He is expected back either today or Friday.
Forte separated rib cartilage in the season opener against the Cowboys Monday night. He was placed on injured reserve yesterday and will be out at least four weeks. Bobby Hammond, who was cut last week, was added to the roster in his place.
The Redskins gained just 58 yards rushing against the Cowboys. Hardeman, an exceptional pass receiver, picked up 11 in six carries, but Pardee was critical of his entire backfield for its lack of aggressiveness.
Jackson carried just twice, gaining one yard. Claitt, who led the club in rushing in the preseason and was one of the major surprises of training camp, saw playing time but did not run the ball. He has explosiveness and power, but lacks experience.
The Redskins would like to be able to relieve both Harmon and Hardeman of full-time running chores so they can be preserved for third-down pass receiving duties. In Washington's offense, the third-down backfield is considered as important as the starters. The club also feels it needs to have more power from the running backs. Jackson, who weighs 220 pounds, also has decent quickness to accompany his strength. He came into the league with San Francisco as a halfback before moving within two years to fullback. Claitt is a 210-pound free agent from Bethune-Cookman who has proven to be a good blocker.But he is not as accomplished a pass receiver as Harmon, who caught seven passes against the Cowboys.
Although he was burned a few times by the Cowboys, Coleman's debut is a NFL starter Monday was a positive one. He intercepted a pass and deflected another, and his speed is a plus on a defensive unit that is lacking in quickness.
Coleman has been playing for Dusek, the Redskins' best linebacker, who has been nursing a bad leg pull since the middle of training camp. Dusek took his full turn in practice yesterday and Pardee said he was moving better, although the coach feels he is not yet at full strength. "There still is some hesitation," Pardee said, "but we hope to be able to use him on Sunday more than we have been."
If Dusek can play against the Giants, Coleman apparently will replace Wysocki. If Dusek can't play full-time Wysocki likely will start with Coleman.
Tight end Don Warren, who missed Monday's game with a hairline fracture of his leg, practiced yesterday. Pardee said he hoped Warren could play against the Giants. "Don still is sore but he is making good progress," Pardee said. "It's tender and I don't know how much he'll be able to get in." Middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz ran on the sidelines, but Pardee said he does not want to risk using him before his sore knee is healed. "I don't want to rush him back too fast and then have him out for the season," Pardee said. "I'm resisting temptation."
Guard Fred Dean, another of the injured, should be okay by the end of the week. He could wind up replacing guard Ron Saul, who has a sore calf. The Redskins feel that Saul plays better when completely healthy and they would like to give him time to heal...Hammond probably will resume his kickoff return duties, which have been filled by Mike Nelms. "It was tough to cut Bobby last week and I'm glad we could bring him back," Pardee said.
The Redskins saw the films of the Dallas loss yesterday. "They were embarrassed by it," Pardee said. "But we'll come out of it. We have work to do an they know it." Quarterback Joe Theismann paid a visit to Dallas cornerback Benny Barnes in Sibley Hospital Tuesday. Barnes is recovering from an appendectomy.