Ricky Thompson knowns all about stereotypes. No matter how well he plays -- and he is playing well for the Redskins now -- he is stuck with unwanted labels.
Okay, so he is only 6 feet and 174 pounds, which hardly makes him a giant among wide receivers. But that still doesn't mean he can't be: A-- fast; B -- talented; C -- reliable; D -- all of the above.
The one misconception that irks Thompson the most is his supposed lack of speed. He may not be the next Bob Hayes, but he isn't Howard Twilley, either.
"Bobby Beathard (Redskin general manager) clocked me in 4.55 for the 40, which isn't slow," Thompson said. "I get the feeling that people think I'm not very quick at all and that just isn't right.
"It comes along with being white. You automatically are the Fred Biletnikoff-type who can make all the 10-or 11-yard catches. I can make those, too, but I'd like to think I can make all of them, not just the short ones."
Thompson is going a long way toward shaking that stereotype this season. Already, he has pulled in pass for 54, 36 and 26 yards and scored four times, high on a club that features rookie Art Monk as its No. 1 wide receiver.
While Monk improves every week, Thompson continues to produce whenever the Redskins remember to use him. His 16 catches are third on the club and are only seven short of his pro best, set in 1978, And he's already matched his career-high for scoring grabs.
Yet Thompson seems destined to remain the receiver most likely to be replaced at the start of every training camp. The Redskins would like someone bigger and stronger manning the spot opposite Monk. But they gave up on Danny Buggs while keeping Thompson. And they keep alternating him with bigger John McDaniel (6-1, 197) this year.
"I just have learned to live with the competition," Thompson said. Every year I face it. It seems to be that much tougher at wide receiver, because we do a lot of running at training camp so they have to bring in a lot of people to share the work. And all those people always seem to be good.
"The only thing I can do is just play the best I can and hope that it is good enough. I've been around here long enough that they are familiar with my ability. They know what my strengths are."
This past training camp, Thompson was faced with beating out, among others, Morris Owens, Tampa Bay's all-time leading receiver; Ken Harrison, a tall, thin, quick ex-49er, and rookie Zion McKinney, a strong, big free agent from South Carolina.
The Redskins wound up cutting Owens, putting Harrison on injured reserve (he was activated last week) and making room for an extra wide receiver so they could keep McKinney. Thompson and McDaniel started the first game, against Dallas, while Monk still was learning the offense.
Thompson came into the league scrambling for a job. He played behind Roger Carr at Baltimore, after being drafted out of Baylor, until the end of the 1978 training camp, when the Colts gave up on him. Beathard, who desperately needed wide receivers, quickly worked a trade to bring him to Washington.
"Ricky has good speed and quickness and he's very reliable," Beathard said.
"He's a good receiver. We traded for him because we knew he had talent and was smart enough to pick up our offense quickly.
"You'd like to see him stronger. He's not real strong through the chest area and sometimes that hurts him when he has to catch in traffic. Guys his size survive in this league, but they need to be able to take the punishment."
Thompson is hardly muscular. He is built more on the lines of a finely tuned ballet dancer, twisting and turning through secondaries. His patterns are well defined, exactly what is needed by Joe Walton's demanding offense. It takes athletic ability to run those routes correctly -- and Thompson has the talent to do so, as reflected by his college track career.
While at Baylor, he set a SouthwestConference indoor long jump record of 24 feet 5 inches and has a personal best of 25-7. He was an AAU junior national champion in the long jump and toured Europe with a United States track team.
Some of Thompson's acrobatic catches -- he is especially efficient at diving parallel to the ground to grab a ball -- can be made because of this background in leaping.
"I just try to concentrate on the ball and catch it," he said. "If I'm going to keep my job, I don't need to make a lot of mistakes, I know that. But I don't feel a lot of pressure out there. I know I have the ability, that's the most important thing."
Although both Thompson and McDaniel have become overshadowed by the emerging Monk, they also should benefit handsomely from the rookie's continued development.The better Monk gets, the more he will be double-teamed. And that means the other receivers will be working more against single coverage.
"I have to think I can beat that kind of coverage," Thompson said. If they try to cut down Art, the rest of us have to produce, so that kind of strategy won't work.
"But a lot of my catches aren't really that planned anyway. They are a result of Joe (Theismann) reading the defense and swtiching receivers or Joe audiblizing at the line. I'd have to think they are going to me more this year, because I'm catching more passes. But so much depends on what the other team tries to do to stop us.
"Anyway, I'm small and slow, so why should any opponent worry about me?" Guard Jeff Williams is to be released from Sibley Hospital today after being treated since Sunday night for a badly bruised thigh. Coach Jack Pardee said he hopes Williams can play in an emergency Sunday against Minnesota.