With Sunday's game against the Eagles just 48 hours away, Coach Jack Pardee continued to maneuver and manipulate his Redskins yesterday, trying to find the answers that will snap them out of their puzzling slump.
In an attempt to solve what he feels is a leadership problem, Pardee has turned to veteran Diron Talbert, mainly used on short-yardage plays, and told him he will be sharing more early downs at defensive tackle with another aging lineman, Paul Smith.
In an attempt to shore up an inconsistent pass rush, Pardee went to the injured reserve list and activated defensive end Joe Jones, second on the club in sacks last season. Replacing Jones, out four weeks with a sprained ankle, on injured reserve will be rookie receiver Zion McKinney, who has a chronic pulled hamstring.
Those moves come on the heels of a decision to start Neal Olkewicz, who has had a knee injury, at middle linebacker to help plug up the rushing defense.
Although probably only a miracle would allow running back Clarence Harmon to play on his sprained ankle Sunday, and the team remains woefullly thin at other offensive positions, Pardee still looked over his handiwork yesterday, thought about it for awhile and declared, "We are now a better team than we were when the week started."
That sort of unflappable optimism has pulled Pardee through previous crises during his coaching stints in the World Football League and with the Chicago Bears. If he has been deeply disturbed by what has happened to this team, it doesn't show on his public face. Instead, he continues to rework and retool a football team he thought might be 3-1 now instead of 1-3 -- and all the while talking about how "we'll come out of this soon and start playing the way we are capable."
Although none of his lineup changes this week will produce what he said is "a major night and day change" in the Redskins' fortunes, they are designed to keep Washington competitive while the injuries he has no control over have time to heal.
The lack of leadership and emotion particularly was disturbing to him. Even when his World Football League players were not being paid regularly, they still performed with intensity and desire. "Pardee's miracle," it was called, as his athletes responded to his honesty and decency and advanced to the WFL title game. And last year, the Redskins relied heavily on enthusiasm to negate some obvious weaknesses and wound up winning more games than they probably should have.
Now he is asking Talbert and Olkewicz to become the leaders.
"He's a leader," Pardee said yesterday about Talbert, the graying leftover from the George Allen era. "He's a hard worker and he'll play the best he can. He has a lot of pride, he'll give us a day's work."
Talbert no longer is the player he once was, but the Redskins won't ask him to go full time. Much like last year, he probably will start the game and alternate series with Smith, another steady old hand. On passing situations, Perry Brooks, who had been starting, will replace them, a move Pardee announced earlier this week.
To give Brooks, promising but inconsistent, more playing time, Talbert was pushed to the side this season. But he remains one of the most respected Redskins, a man who does the job that skill alone can not produce.
Olkewicz, likewise, has an uncanny knack of inspiring teammates. He is a all-out player whose crushing tackles and instinct on running plays are needed by the defense.
"We just hope Neal can hold up," Pardee said. "He's an asset to the defense and it gives us so much more flexibility than we have when he is out of the lineup."
But to ease one problem, Pardee realizes, he might have created another. With McKinney out, the Redskins have just three wide receivers and no healthy backup tight end, a spot the rookie from South Caroline was filling.
"If we find ourselves short (at tight end) Sunday, we'll have to go with either (guard) Dan Nugent or use three wide receivers," Pardee said. "We didn't want to put Zion down, but the only thing that will heal his hamstring is rest. He's a good special teams player too, so we also are hurt there.
"But we've been playing short at a lot of positions all season. It's something we just have to continue to live with."
This has been a particularly arduous week for Pardee, who has been trying to salvage his masterplan for this season ever since John Riggins left training camp and returned to Lawrence, Kan. The coach was embarrassed by how the Redskins played last Sunday against Seattle and he vowed to do anything he could to prevent a repeat performance.
"But he didn't change his approach, because he shouldn't," said an assistant coach, Richie Petitbon. "It's worked for him in the past and there is no reason why it shouldn't in the future. There has been no panic or anything like that.
"He's a calm, logical person and he approaches these problems the same way. I don't think you need a yeller and a screamer right now. That's way overblown. There are things we need to correct and Jack is smart enough to know how to correct them."
Pardee admits he has increased his already long hours a bit the past few days. "But I don't want to get into that," he said. "Let Dick Vermeil (Eagles coach) talk about that stuff.
"I have a constant checklist I keep on myself. I keep going over it, making sure we are doing things right. We aren't fans, we're professionals. The fans' solution is to go all out, to turn to the fancy and the sensational to change things around. But our approach is to make sure we are doing the basics right, that we block and tackle right."