Joe Bugel, who is only 5 feet 10, looked up, way up, into the eyes of Jerry Scanlan, the Redsins' young 6-5 offensive tackle. If a glare could shrink a man, Scanlan would have been two inches shorter.
"Scans," said Bugel, Washington's frenetic offensive line coach, "we're going to do this 1,000 times if we have to. But Scans," added Bugel, his voice rising, "you're going to get it right."
It takes a minimum of two years to produce a cohesive, effective offensive line. Bugel is trying to do it in less than six weeks, in time for the Redskins' Sept. 6 opener against Dallas and the best defensive front four in the NFL.
But there is even more at stake than the Cowboy game. Washington may have worked diligently to strengthen itself with offseason trades and roster changes. But all that work could prove fruitless, depending on what kind of line emerges from this training camp.Without competent blocking, the Offense of the '80s could fizzle.
To make the task even more complicated, Bugel is teaching blocking techniques that are so innovative even the veterans admit they feel like rookies at times.
"Let's face it," said George Starke, the tackle who is the line's sole link with past Redskin teams, "the line is the most difficult position to learn in pro football. It takes a long time for individuals to know what they are doing and even longer for the line to blend. You've got to master run blocking, pass blocking, different protection schemes, the way defenses change just before the snap.
"You need a couple of years to be really good and at least half a season before you begin to feel comfortable. What they are trying to do here is going to be difficult. I don't know if it's going to work out.
"The idea is to work as hard as you can and make the line as good as you can by the end of camp, before the Dallas game. Then you have to hope you can get lucky and get some breaks and stay within reach until the second half of the season. By then, the line could come on and we could make a run at things. That's being realistic."
Bugel's job has been made more difficult because of the loss of guard Fred Dean, who will miss at least a month with a ruptured arm muscle, and injuries to Scanlan and center Dan Peiffer that kept them from practicing for much of this week. The five players who were to begin camp as starters have been together for only one workout in four days.
"It's a rough way to start off," said Peiffer. Starke and Peiffer are the only starters from last year still on the first team. "We need every day we can get. You need to feel comfortable with each other and it doesn't happen overnight."
But don't tell that to Bugel. He rejects "any of those old theories" that time is working against his line. Otherwise, the decision would never have been made before camp to demote veteran starters Terry Hermeling (since retired), Ron Saul and Bob Kuziel and go with younger players.
"I'm not saying we are going to have an all-pro unit real fast," he said, sitting in his office that is filled with practice films, "but we can be good fast. It's just a matter of work and picking up techniques."
Bugel's aim is to create what he calls "a Dirty Dozen" type of feeling among his linemen. "You know, where they took a bunch of guys who didn't know each other and by the end of the film, they would kill to protect each other. This is like a marriage. It's got to be that close."
But before the marriage can take place, the proper introductions have to be made. And even Bugel isn't sure what line combination he will have by the time Randy White, Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin, John Dutton and the rest of the Cowboys visit RFK Stadium.
Bugel is still teaching individual blocking fundamentals while trying to mold the line into a unit. That's a heavy load for young players such as Scanlan, Dean, guard Melvin Jones, tackle Mark May and center Russ Grimm to pick up quickly.
"At least I have enough experience where I don't have to worry much about line calls and double team blocking and adjusting to changes on defense," said Starke. "I can worry mostly about perfecting the way Joe wants us to block. The other guys, they've got it a lot worse.
"But Bugel is the right man for the job. We need someone who teaches and harps on fundamentals. He's a guy who will do that."
Bugel was Houston's line coach during the start of the Earl Campbell era. He is active and enthusiastic. He realizes at times his preaching can scound corny -- "Love those sweet feet," is one of his favorite expressions -- but his conviction that what he is teaching is correct has made a lasting impressionn on his players.
"He'll yell at us, especially me," said the good-natured Scanlan, a former tight end in college who is playing only is second year at tackle. "But he isn't abusive without tryintg to be helpful. I know he wants me to get better. And I know I need to be pushed or I would sit back. So I accept what he does. When I do what he wants, I can see it is pretty devastating."
Bugel would love to see his linemen dress in the same locker room area, eat all meals together, even go to bars together after meetings, anything to hurry the teaching process.
But until that closeness develops, he has to be content with his instruction periods on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. Those segments, especially during workouts, are some of the most intense at a Redskin training camp since Vince Lombardi coached here.
After every snap of the ball, after almost every move by one of his athletes, Bugel is next to him, correcting, prodding, complimenting. Once, he was so delighted by a block that he leaped into Scanlan's lap. His message is always the same: be aggressive, drive and use your hands.
"For too long," Bugel said, "offensive linemen have been passive. They've retreated, they've absorbed the blows instead of delivering them. Defensive linemen were always aggressive, but why does that have to be the way? With the new rules, why can't offensive linemen attack and force the action?
"It's an extensio of their weight training. They lift up over their heads, so why not use that motion in games? We emphasize use of the hands. The rules let you extend your arms and hands away from your body now and I want those hands lifting and driving at all times."
Under Bugel's system, the centers and guards never retreat on pass protection. Their first move is forward, driving their arms and hands out and up against the chest of their opponents. Tackles must step back a bit, but they still are trying to initiate the blocking action. Bugel wants all of his players to deliver the first blow and dictate the action.
"Before, I was always taught to fold my elbows into my body and use them to ward off people as I backed up," said Dean. "He wants us to use controlled aggesssion now, and not get beat up for four seconds while some defensive guy was trying to get to the quarterback."
Bugel says it takes "a special breed of man to punch someone in the stomach for 71 snaps a game, but that's what we are asking them to do. This is a young man's game in the line now and we are teaching a young man's technique. You've got to be active and strong."
Starke said: "It's a good blocking technique because you know it works. You could see how Houston played. And I think it's a bit easier to pick up, which helps younger players like we have. They can go faster. We're also not going to be asked to hold people out for nine-step dropbacks. Passes will be released quickly and that will make it easier."
Jones, who is 6-2 and 278 pounds, has developed since last year under Bugel's guidance. Jones couldn't pass block his shadow last year.This camp, he has thrived, mainly because Bugel's system allows him to apply his aggression, which the coach started to harness by visiting Jones frequently at his Houston home during the offseason.
Jones and Starke appear to be set on the right side of the line, but otherwise and early preseason games should determine the rest of the unit. After struggling at left tackle for days, May suddenly has begun making progress and will push Scanlan. With Dean sidelined, Grimm has moved into his starting guard spot, but also is a contender for Peiffer's center position. Scanlan could even wind up at Dean's vacant guard slot.
"We've opened it wide up," said Bugel. "We aren't ready to say, 'This guy is going to be our starter.' It's going to be decided through competition, on films, so everyone knows we are right when we pick the final guys."
But is that enough to get ready for Randy White?
"It's going to have to be," Bugel said. "We haven't got any other choice."
John Riggins (sore back) and Kuziel (back spasms) both sat out practices today. Scanlan (sore leg) worked in the morning but not in the afternoon. . .When his players were not hustling enough to satisfy him, Gibbs made them run after morning practice, the first time since camp started that he's invoked such disciplinary action. "I thought it would get their attention," he said. . . Cornerback Jeris White continues to deliver the hardest blows of any defensive player. . . May had a standout scrimmage Wednesday night at left tackle, substituting for Scanlan. May had been struggling at that spot and was being groomed for the right side, but that could change if he continues to improve. . . Rich Milot worked some at middle linebacker, where he played last year. He now is starting for Brad Dusek on the outside.