The transition from college to professional football is mind-boggling, even for the all-Americas and standouts who come fresh out of campus stadiums into NFL spring workouts and mini-camps. The transition is even more trying when a player has spent a year out of football, then tries in six weeks to show the coaches he can make the squad.
Guard Melvin Jones and defensive end Neil Elshire are in such a fix. They are in different situations, however. Jones, a seventh-round draft choice in 1980 from Houston, practices as a member of the first team.
Elshire, a free agent from Oregon, is so far back on the depth chart that his name is almost off the page. But both players may be integral parts of the team before the Redskins break camp and face the Dallas Cowboys Sept. 6.
What the Redskins need more than long passes, fleaflickers or end reverses is good, young lineman, both on offense and defense. Jones and Elshire each played his first preseason game Friday -- for each, the first game in over a year -- and showed ability to play in the NFL. How well they can play, and how consistently, are still to be determined.
At least for now, both seem relatively healthy after missing last season with injuries. Jones contracted phlebitis in the 1980 camp and spent the year on the injured reserve list.
Elshire, a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder known best in college for his pass rushing, had his second (left) knee operation in 1979 and did not play last year.
The coaches say they are impressed with both players. Coach Joe Gibbs has singled out Jones several times for his play against Kansas City. g
Because Elshire is playing behind Mat Mendenhall, Fred Cook and Karl Lorch on the left side of the defense, he needs to continue his good preseason showing through the final weeks in order to make the team.
After a two-hour practice in 90-degree heat this morning, Jones and Elshire discussed their progress in camp and what it felt like to play football again.
"Considering Friday night was my first game," said Jones, "I think I played pretty good. But I still see a lot of areas where I can improve. In practice, everything is controlled and you rerely see situations as they unfold during a game. And the action in a game is not three-quarters, like camp. It's full speed. Some things happened a little faster than I was expecting in the Kansas City game. That's why I'm so anxious to play Minnesota (at RFK Stadium) on Friday."
Jones knows what he needs to improve on.
"Sometimes, I have a technique problem in that I get my head down, causing me to not stand up properly on my block," he said. Part of that habit comes from playing on the defensive line in his first year at Houston. For a defender, technique is not as important as a powerful drive.
"Even as a guard, everything at Houston was so aggressive," Jones said. "I have to learn not to go after my man. I also need to work on protecting against back-door pursuit.
"Kansas City was good for those types of things. They run abnormal defenses. They'll bring a linebacker and defensive end in on the same side. That's unusual. It's a risk, but a chance for the linebacker to break through. The back-door play, I'll work on to close the door. I'm sure of it.
"But the game pressure after a year's layoff doesn't bother me. Last year, while I was on the injured reserve, I sat in the stands and watched the games. I was part of the fan hysteria. Now I'm ready to be involved on the field."
Because Houston used the veer offense, Jones' three years as a starting guard were spent leading sweeps to the right. "I've always felt that my run blocking is pretty good," he said. "But now, because of the coaches, my pass blocking is coming along."
As a defensive lineman in the Pac 10, Elshire saw more passing than runing, except when he played against USC. "That's why I was glad I got to play the run a lot against Kansas City," said Elshire. "I knew I needed to work on my run defense because we didn't see that much in college. I had to prove to the coaches I could defend against the run."
Elshire said the Kansas City game "was kind of fun," but felt a little strange after so much time being inactive.
"I'm a rookie, so I don't expect to shoot to the top of the depth chart right away," Elshire said. "I need work in every aspect of the game, whether it's reading keys or whatever. That's why I'm so anxious for the Minnesota game -- to get out there and learn and show I want to play football."