John Riggins caught a flare pass, turned the corner and accelerated 30 yards up the sideline before pulling to a stop. There were no defenders on the field at the time during yesterday's Redskin minicamp workout, but Riggins' burst was an indication that his one-year layoff from football may not have hurt him at all.
"He looks the same as he did two years ago," said fullback Clarence Harmon, who often replaced Riggins in the backfield in 1979. "If I took off a year, it might hurt me. And then, if I decided to leave the game, I might not want to come back. You have to stay with it. It's too early to tell if the year off will hurt John. You have to wait until you put on the pads; then you can tell the difference."
Riggins sat out the 1980 season because of a contract dispute. He decided to attend this three-day session and also has said he will come to camp in July, regardless of a decision that will be rendered soon by an arbitrator.
Yesterday, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound fullback who gained 1,153 yards for Washington in '79, got more involved in the workouts than he did Thursday. Because Coach Joe Gibbs has installed a new offense and Riggins had not attended any previous minicamps, he is being brought along slowly.
"It's coming," Riggins said. "It just takes time, but it'll come."
Don Breaux, the offensive backfield coach, said Riggins has an "unusual body" and that should help him regain his form.
"He looks good but, any time you lay off, you lose a little something," Breaux said. "There are exceptions, however. It just depends on the individual as to how quick he can regain what he lost. He hasn't fully extended himself because he's sitting back absorbing what we're doing. He's run many of these plays before but he has to assimilate what he knows with the new formations.
"With Riggins, Joe Washington, Terry Metcalf and Clarence Harmon, we have the luxury of a good number of experienced backs. When camp opens, there will be good competition and the tempo will definitely pick up." Like Washington, Metcalf and Harmon, Riggins catches the ball well and the coaches believe he will have no problems adjusting to Gibbs' passing fancy.
"I haven't really thought about Washington being a pass-oriented team," Riggins said. "We haven't tested anything so we don't know what will work. We'll just wait and see what happens."
Many of the players have no doubt that Riggins will return to form and make a major contribution to the team.
"John's been working out since February. Usually, he doesn't like to start until May or June so I know he's in great shape now," guard Ron Saul said. "The year off helped his body heal that much longer. There's no question I'm glad to see him back.
"We have some great tailbacks here but we need that big horse. Rig is the one. I don't think any of the veterans, the few of us that are left, have any animosity toward John for leaving last year. Maybe if I was in the same position, I might have, too. Everyone knows when he puts on a uniform, he's ready to play. Houston's got Earl (Campbell), Pittsburgh's got Franco (Harris) and we got Rig."
There was much more enthusiasm at yesterday's workouts and Gibbs said he is pleased with his players, particularly with the showing of his pass defenders. $"I tell my receivers they're working against three of the best corners to play the game," Gibbs said. "Joe Lavender, Jeris White and Lemar Parrish give all the tough looks and this is going to help our receivers," Gibbs said. "They (the receivers) may get frustrated at times but I tell them those three are not just average guys. We've added a lot of things as we've gone along and the tempo has been faster. But I'm pleased, overall."
Gibbs did express disappointmenmt at the absence of No. 1 draft choice Mark May, an offensive tackle from Pittsburgh who chose not to attend this camp because he hasn't signed a contract.
"Obviously, he's getting advice and was told not to come," Gibbs said. "Not being here hurts him. It's important for any young lineman who is thinking about being a starter to attend. You make your money by being a starter and an all-pro. Missing camp hurts him."
The coach also was unhappy over the absence of veteran defensive lineman Coy Bacon, who has missed all three minicamps. Gibbs indicated he is making plans to do without him.