Perry Brooks was going to turn this season into a one-man coming-out party. He was going to shed the label of part-time player and the Redskins were going to reap the rewards.They would have an improved pass rush from the defensive tackle spot and they would gain some much-needed youth on the front four.
But just as this season hardly has worked out as planned for Washington, so too has the Great Perry Brooks Starting Experiment stalled.
Brooks is back in his third-down, long-yardage role, Washington's pass rush is mediocre and his future with the club once more is in limbo.
The Redskins didn't mince words in the preseason with Brooks. "We've invested a lot in him, in terms of time and money. Now he needs to show us something," said the defensive coordinator, Doc Urich.
"Perry can be a star; he can be one of the best, but he just has to push himself harder. If he doesn't, then maybe he is only a part-time player and we will have to take a look at his future with us," said Coach Jack Pardee.
The Redskins now are saying they haven't given up on the 25-year-old Brooks, that his demotion behind 36-year-old Diron Talbert and 35-year-old Paul Smith isn't necessarily permanent.
"He has the ability," Urich said, "and he'll be given opportunities to show it. This is really only his first year as a full-time player and you'd like to give anyone at least two years."
But there is little doubt there is concern about Brooks' development and about the lack of improvement by the team's front four, which currently averages 33 years of age, has no starter under 30 and has two (Talbert and Coy Bacon) over 35.
Brooks, an immensely likeable giant of a man, is trying to hide his keen disappointment behind a characteristic smile.
"I look at it like I am a guinea pig," he said. "You know how things are going. They wanted to experiment. But I'm not giving up, that's not my nature.
"I thought I was playing pretty good but I could have been doing better. I need to concentrate more on down and distance. I have to understand better what is going on out there and what I am supposed to be doing."
Brooks, who is healthy for the first time since joining the Redskins in 1977, said his main task now "is to keep working hard and keep trying to improve myself. I don't think they've given up on me and I haven't given up on myself. I'm really not worried about it. I'm a happy man and I have a positive attitude and I'm not going to lose that. I just don't give up, that's not my nature, either."
When he was told last week that Talbert and Smith would play on the early downs while he would be used mainly for pass rushing and short-yardage work, Brooks said he was depressed "for about an hour. Then I decided to pull things together and go to work."
The decision to go more with Talbert and Smith further illustrates a growing age problem on the Redskins. Their offensive line also is old -- four of the five starters are at least 30 -- and it is imperative to the team's future that such potential starters as Brooks, defensive end Mat Mendenhall, tackle Jerry Scanlan and guard Melvin Jones mature quickly.
"We just won't be able to handle all those line spots in one or two drafts," said one team source. "Some of those guys have to turn out to be players to relieve some of the pressure. Otherwise we are going to be scrambling for both offensive and defensive linemen. We'll just have too many needs."
That's why the Redskins realize they can ill-afford to permanently abandon the Brooks experiment. But now that he has been unable to keep a first-string job handed to him in camp, he will have to prove to the staff that its loyalty to him is justified.
Brooks still has all the physical ability to be a standout player. At 6-foot-3, and 260 pounds, he has good size and improving strength. But his best attribute remains his outstanding quickness, which has been compared to that of Joe Greene. That movement that allows Brooks to be a dangerous pass rusher.
"Physically, Perry isn't really doing anything wrong," Urich said of Brooks' play this season. "It's more like he is making errors of omission in games.
"Part of it is mental, being ready to play. He made some mistakes that hurt us and he made some good plays, too, but he just wasn't consistent enough. hI still think he can be a fine player; he has the talent, no doubt about it."
Urich says that by using Brooks on passing downs "we can still utilize his ability while also giving him a chance to regroup and develop. I'm sure this bothers him and is eating away at him. He's still inexperienced, but he'll stand in there and hit with the best of them. That's encouraging. He just has to get his assignments down and keep working."
If the Redskins were winning, they might have been more patient with Brooks. But they have been searching constantly for ways to find an edge to end their losing streak, and that includes shuffling personnel who aren't performing up to expectations.
"My time will come," Brooks said. "I think I can help this team and I know I can play. I've just got to be patient."
Pardee continues to be encouraged by the progress of tackle George Starke, who is returning from a knee injury. It now appears likely that Starke will start against Denver Monday night, barring a relapse over the next few days . . . "It will be good to get the right side of our line back again," Pardee said, referring to both Starke and tight end Don Warren, who is returning after a broken leg . . . Pardee said it is likely Ike Forte will be activated before Monday night's game to give the Redskins an extra running back . . . Guard Ron Saul, who has a sore calf, worked out yesterday for the first time this week. Pardee said Saul "looks like he can play, but if not, we are making sure Dan Nugent gets plenty of work" . . .
Fullback Clarence Harmon is moving nearly at full speed on his still-sore ankle, but fullback Rickey Claitt continues to be hobbled on his sprained ankle.