Quarterback Joe Theismann was optimistic yesterday that his pulled hamstring would be well enough to let him start against Dallas Sunday. But Coach Jack Pardee kept the Cowboys guessing by repeatedly emphasizing Theismann might be only "available" for the game, and not necessarily ready to start.
Pardee's verbal gymnastics were the only evidence at Redskin Park that this was the start of another Dallas week. For the first time in a decade, a game between the two rivals has none of the excitement or glamor usually associated with Redskin-Cowboy confrontations. That's how depressing this season has become for Pardee's 3-8 team.
Without Theismann, the Redskins would have to try to snap a three-game losing streak with Mike Kruczek, who has thrown just four passes this season. The Redskins had high hopes for Kruczek when they obtained him during training camp from Pittsburgh, but he still doesn't have Theismann's familiarity with the offense or the kind of sharpness obtained by playing regularly.
"I have great confidence in Mike; he's really picked up things quickly," Pardee said. "We'd like to go with Joe, but if we see he doesn't have the mobility that we think he needs to do the things quarterbacks do in our offense (many rollouts and sprintouts), then we would go with Mike.
"It will certainly come down to a day of the game decision. We would see how Joe looks in warmups. Right now, I think he'll be available, unless he regresses. But we'll have to see how the rest of the week goes before we see if he can start."
Theismann is one of the few Redskins who has had a decent season -- and he long has been considered the player the team could least afford to have injured. He has taken a battering from defensive linemen this year and his consistency has been bothered by an unstable offensive line. Still, he has twice thrown for more than 300 yards and is completing 57 percent of his passes, along with throwing 15 interceptions.
The hamstring hurt him so much after Sunday's Philadelphia game that he could not bend over to tie his shoe. But after spending that night "watching the Godfather on ice," he said the leg, thanks to ice treatments, was vastly improved.
"I can bend and just about touch my toes," he said. "I'm amazed by how much better it feels. I was concerned Sunday, but I'm encouraged now.
"I don't think I need my full mobility to be able to play. I don't plan to run around that much anyway. I never have against Dallas.
"As long as the leg can support my weight and not tighten up on me, I think I'd be okay. The leg won't affect my decisions or my execution. I just won't be able to take off and run full speed, that I know.
"I really hurt my knee a week before the start of the season in 1978 but I was in the lineup on Sunday. I'm never going to tell the coaches I can't play; they are going to have to make that decision."
The extent of Theismann's mobility probably will determine whether Pardee uses him Sunday. Considering the Cowboy pass rush, his line's recent breakdowns and the type plays the Redskins will need to call to cut down on Dallas' front four penetration, Pardee might decide playing Theismann is too big a risk.
"With a quarterback, it's a little different than with other injuries, you might go with a guy longer at the quarterback spot," Pardee said. "If there is any chance we can use Joe, I'm sure we would. At least we think he will be available."
Pardee said he was very concerned about Theismann's condition Sunday, but he, too, grew more optimistic yesterday after seeing how Theismann had improved.
"For right now, Mike will take the practice work early in the week and Joe will rest," Pardee said. "Mike needs more work and Joe won't be hurt by sitting out, so it's really not a bad situation."
Theismann's injury is the latest in a series of major problems that have battered the Redskins since early in training camp. Pardee realizes the last thing his struggling offense needs is to lose its key player, especially after Sunday's embarrassment of penalties, turnovers, dropped passes and assorted careless mistakes.
Pardee still maintained that his players need time to work their way out of this inconsistency, even though the Redskins are plagued by basically the same difficulties 11 weeks into the season as they were in the opening loss to the Cowboys.
"We'll snap out of it, we'll stop getting as many penalties and we'll do it all of a sudden," Pardee said. "I'm very confident and optimistic about that. I know there isn't much time left, but on Sunday I saw the hustle and aggressiveness we need to be a good team. Now that we have that tied down, we can work on these things.
"When we lost the week before (to Chicago), there were so many things wrong that you didn't know where to begin. That's not the case anymore.
"We have to be able to do what Philadelphia did on their first drive against us, just take the ball, control it and move down the field 81 yards for a touchdown. We aren't doing that. Every time we have a good play, we are looking around for a flag. We have to make better judgments, we have to play smarter, but with the same intensity."
Pardee said he thought some of the troubles Sunday came from "trying too hard. We were pressing. There was a lot at stake and everyone wanted to do something to help us win. When that happens, things tighten up. I want us to go out there and relax and have fun and not think every play is going to make or break us.
"Playing Dallas should help. We always want to beat them, and we can if we play our best game. If we don't, then we won't. It's that simple."
Pardee said he was considering putting tackle Terry Hermeling, who has a damaged thumb, on injured reserve and moving rookie Jerry Scanlan onto the active roster. "It will depend on what the doctors tell me this week about Terry. He evidently is going to need two or three more casts and the pins are hurting him. If he can't play for awhile, I'll make a move". . . Pardee said he has thought about adding a third quarterback, but said he probably wouldn't unless Theismann is ruled out of Sunday's game.