The Chicago Bear safeties hit so hard that receivers should get an extra pass route over the middle.
"Doug Plank and Gary Fencik are excellent at what they do best -- which is hit," said Art Monk, one of the Washington receivers who will be running those pass routes Sunday against the Chicago defense, ranked second in the National Football League.
"Those two are very aggressive and hit especially hard," Monk said after the team's two-hour practice yesterday at Redskin Park. "As a matter of fact, they're probably the hardest-hitting pair of safeties in the league."
Plank, in his sixth year out of Ohio State, and Yalie Fencik, are rated as among the game's toughest hitting safeties. They also have been accused of taking cheap shots and making late hits.
"Sometimes they might get a little overzealous, but I don't think either have malice in their hearts," said Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann, who may find himself seeking refuge Sunday from the Bears' often-used safety blitzes that sometimes find the opposing quarterback being impaled by Plank's helmet.
"They are physical," said Theismann, "probably the most physical in the league. So we have to mentally prepare ourselves this week to take their shots and be sore after its over."
Jack Pardee, who coached Fencik and Plank from 1975 through 1977, when he was Chicago's head coach, also dismisses charges from hurting receivers that the duo plays dirty.
"They don't hit late," said Pardee, "just hard. Plank has been well criticized but he's had very few penalties. When I was in Chicago we knew from day one that Doug was a hitter. He and Gary are part of that 1975 group that forms the core of that Bear team. They've developed into good safetymen, but not cheap shot artists. They're not a lot different from the guys we have here."
Pardee and his receivers insist they won't change their pass routes for Chicago. But rookie Monk said, "We will try instead, to work on the other two," meaning Alan Ellis, a former all-pro, and Terry Schmidt, the Chicago cornerbacks.
"Remember, we're not always receiving," said John McDaniel. "We're blocking on most plays so we have chances to hit them, too. They're known to be hitters, but if they're playing to just bang receivers, rather than play pass defense, it'll take away from their effectiveness on defense."
In a telephone conversation from Chicagon, Fencik said, "We're not going out intentionally to injure opposing players. I would rather have interceptions than knockdowns. Two weeks ago against the Eagles, I hit Wally Henry very hard and I thought I had just knocked the wind out of him. But I learned later that he has a spleen injury. But I don't take any pride in having knocked him out of the Eagles lineup.
"Doug has been criticized more than I have, but in the scheme of our defense we're expected to make a lot of tackles. And I think any defensive coach will tell you we have to play until the whistle is blown and sometimes we get very aggressive. However, we don't play in the style of Jack Tatum (the Raider whose tackle in an exhibition game left Patriot Darryl Stingley paralyzed)."
Another Redskin receiver, Ricky Thompson, said this game won't be much different from any other game.
"Ninety percent of their game is intimidation," said Thompson, again referring to Plank and Fencik. "They are very good at trying to make the receivers worry about them roaming the field, and forget about their routes. But we just have to run whatever route is called and make sure we concentrate. bYou know the hit is coming."
"We're not going to take out any extra life insurance this week," added Monk with a smile. "I really can't criticize them because they just happen to be good athletes who hit hard. That's the concept of this game."
Fencik, a soft-spoken intellectual off the field, delivered what veteran observers insist was one of the hardest tackles in the history of professional football three years ago in a game against the Giants in icy East Rutherford, N.J.
As Giant receiver Larry Robinson was streaking across the middle of the field on a timed crossing pattern, the ball and Fencik's helmet arrived in his chest and neck simultaneously. Robinson was knocked out for several hours and Giant coaches didn't send another receiver across the middle that game.
Fencik, the free safety, is the one who causes problems for the receivers. Plank plays with kamikaze-like abandon, hurling his body head-first into backs, usually a millisecond before (or after) the referee's whistle.
What does quarterback Theismann plan to do when both Fencik and Plank blitz him? "Get rid of the ball," Theismann laughed. "My receivers and backs don't have that option though, do they?"
But the Redskin receivers aren't the only ones preparing for an extra tough encounter Sunday in Soldier Field.
"Monk will present some special problems for us defensively," said Fencik. "You don't face many receivers in the NFC with his combination of size and speed. We have great respect for him and Theismann."