There is growing concern at the Redskin training camp about the teams tight end situation, where only starter Don Warren has performed up to expectations.
Coach Joe Gibbs began camp three weeks ago believing the club was in better shape than he had anticipated at tight end. But now, Gibbs lists tight end, along with the offensive line, as his two major concerns entering Saturday's 2 p.m. controlled scrimmage with Baltimore.
"Don Warren has proven he can play," Gibbs said today, "but everyone else is still a question for us.We're not happy about it, but we have plenty of time and we aren't panicking. We feel we have talent there, but someone needs to break away from the pack."
Gibbs is fearful that, if Warren is injured, there is no one in camp good enough to step in immediately. Last year, when Warren was hurt in preseason, Washington had problems until he returned five weeks later.
Although the Redskins deny it, the club has been making inquiries around the league about the availability of backup tight ends. But that position is one of the thinnest in the NFL, which makes any deal difficult. There also is the possibility Washington eventually could pick up a player off the waiver lists.
Injuries, especially along the offensive line, continue to plauge the team.
Rookie quarterback Tom Flick complained today of feeling run down and tired. He will be examined Saturday by team physician Donald Knowlan but is expected to play in the scrimmage.
Defensive end Mat Mendenhall's twisted knee still is preventing him form returning to practice, although the injury at first was diagnosed as minor. He hopes to begn working out Monday. He was, however, limping noticeably today.
Guard Fred Dean had surgery on his right arm today to repair a ruptured muscle. He will be out at least four weeks. His place in the starting line has been taken by rookie Russ Grimm, keeping veteran Ron Saul as a backup.
Both Saul and veteran center Bob Kuziel, a starter the last two years, have received limited practice time since they reported Sunday. Kuziel, in particular, has been buried on the depth chart behind Dan Peiffer (still sidelined with a bad leg), Grimm and Jeff Bostic, who has become one of the most pleasant surprises in camp.
Although Gibbs and Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach, maintain that they are trying to give the younger linemen a thorough look, it's becoming apparent Kuziel's chances of making the team are slim. Saul's position has improved because of the injury to Dean and the walkout by rookie Gary Sayre, but he still faces a struggle to survive the final roster cut.
Kuziel, who has been slowed by back spasms, said he was trying "to go out and play as hard as I can. That's what I've always done. I just wish my back felt better."
Bostic's unexpected development has further reduced Kuziel's appearances. Bostic was the Redskins' center on special teams last year, but so far in camp he has played well enough to help free Grimm, the highly regarded prospect from Pittsburgh, for more guard duty.
Because of the injury problems, two rookies (Grimm and tackle Mark May) will start Saturday, along with Bostic, guard Melvin Jones, who sat out his rookie year on injured reserve, and veteran George Starke. May is replacing Jerry Scanlan, who remains hobbled by a sore leg.
Gibbs had hoped Rick Walker, who was signed as a free agent by the Redskins last September, would retain his No. 2 tight end spot during camp. But so far, Walker's performance has disappointed the staff.
"Rick has talent," Gibbs said about the 6-foot-4, 235-pound UCLA product. "But we are still waiting and watching for him to improve." The Redskins are especially concerned about Walker's toughness and blocking ability, although he has the speed to move outside and double as a wide receiver. If he can't make the team, Gibbs may have to carry four receivers and just two tight ends instead of three.