The Redskins juggled reserve quarterbacks today, signing Mike Rae, a free agent who last played for Tampa Bay, and assigning Mike Kirkland to compete full time against incumbent punter Miek Connell.
Coach Joe Gibbs said that the addition of Rae, a University of Southern California product who has played eight years of pro football, does not indicate any lack of confidence in rookie quarterback Tom Flick. When Flick was picked in the last draft, it was expected that he would be Joe Theismann's backup.
"We've been pleased with everything Tom has done," Gibbs said, "but this has more to do with the situation behind Joe and Tom.
"We thought it would be fair to Mike Kirkland to free him from quarterback duties so he could compete full time for punter. That left a quarterback opening and Mike Rae has had experience in this league and we like his competitiveness and the way he throws the ball."
Gibbs said rookie quarterback Phil Kessel, a 10th-round pick from Northern Michigan, would have his practice load reduced while Rae gets a crash course in Gibbs' complex offense.
When Kirkland signed with the Redskins in the spring, he was considered a better punter than quarterback. Gibbs felt that Kirkland didn't excel at quarterback and coul never realize his punting potential unless allowed to concentrate on kicking. But with Kirkland yielding his quarterbacking duties, the team would have had no emergency replacement for Theismann and Flick, a situation Gibbs could not tolerate.
"What if, when we got into competition, either Tom or Joe got hurt?" Gibbs asked. "We would have to ask Mike to leave his punting and come back and play quarterback. This way, we've got a solid veteran who can step in. We wouldn't be scrambling. I consider this a smart move. It gives us a proven guy to compete and see where he fits in."
Of course, if something happened to Theismann prior to the opener, Rae's availability would give the Redskins an alternative of going either with the veteran or the inexperienced Flick. Gibbs wouldn't say which quarterback would replace Theismann, if he were injured.
"That's something exhibition games determine," he said.
Tampa Bay released Rae in May and the Redskins contacted him earlier this month. Gibbs talked to him again Sunday and asked him to try out today.Rae looked sharp and signed a contract this afternon.
"Joe (Gibbs) could see some need here for an experienced backup quarterback," Rae said. "It's difficult to have a rookie start 15 or 16 games if your No. 1 guy goes down. I played for him at USC in 1970 and for Tampa Bay in 1978 and he knows I'm a competitive guy.
"One of the things I hate about this profession is that you can be a backup quarterback for years and not play much at all. But I want to continue to play football, even though I haven't gotten used to being a backup. Still, there is a place on this team for me."
Rae said he had no illusions about his future with the team. "It could be a one-year deal, because they have two young quarterbacks," he said. "And I could play well for them and they could trade me away during the year to a team that needed help badly.
"But I was glad to leave Tampa Bay. I felt I should have played but I was getting lost within the organization. I wanted out. Joe knows me; he knows what I can do, so this is a good place for me."
Rae, 30, was on the Buc injured reserve list most of last season after hurting a shoulder slightly. He was selected on the eighth round of the 1973 draft by Oakland, but played three years in Canada. He joined the Raiders in 1976 and started three games before being traded in 1978 to Tampa Bay for two fifth-round choices. That season, he started five games but appeared in only five the next year, playing behind Doug Williams.
In the NFL, Rae has completed 124 of 249 passes for 1,536 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. As a starter in Canada, he threw for 3,575 yards and 30 touchdowns in three sessions. He is about the same size as Theismann: 6 feet and 200 pounds.
The decision to move Kirkland emphasized Gibbs' determination to provide stiff competiton for Connell, who realizes he is on the spot.
"This has happened to me wherever I've been in the league," Connell said. After beating out Mike Bragg, Connell started shakily last season, but averaged 42 yards a punt the final seven games. "A new staff comes in and they have their own ideas and people they want to see.
"I'm used to the competition. I withstood it last year and I can do it this year, too. I want to average 42 yards for the season and I can. I feel great. I'm in good shape. We'll just have to see how the exhibition games go."
Kirkland, a former backup quarterback in Baltimore, seemed to have won the San Diego punting job last year buy twisted an ankle in preseason. When the injury didn't heal, San Diego cut him and traded for Rich Partridge.
Wayne Sevier, Redskin special teams coach who was the Charger special teams coach who was the Charger special teams coach in 1980, said he expects yconnell and Kirkland to be very close in ability from now on. "Kirkland is very quick and efficient in his kicking but, other than briefly last summer, he hasn't kicked in competition, so we need to see him in game conditions.
"Connell is very consistent and he's getting his kicks off quicker.