Joe Gibbs will conclude his first training camp as Redskin coach Friday with almost as many questions left to be answered about his team as he had before the first workout six weeks ago.
Every time one piece of the Redskin puzzle has fallen into place in camp, another seemingly has popped up for him to solve.
"I still don't know how good this team will be, I really don't," said Gibbs. "I don't see how anyone could. There are too many things still to be settled. I won't really know what to expect until after we play some regular-season games against opponents who are going all out.
"I'm happy with a lot of things. I think we've had a good camp overall and I think we have a smart, hard-working team that is determined to do well. Their work habits and attitude have been terrific. But we are probably just a little behind where I'd like to be at this point."
With the season opener just over two weeks away and the Redskins with a 2-0 exhibition game record that has fans excited, these are the major problem areas:
Offensive line: Injuries and youth have slowed the development of an already shaky situation. Gibbs says the line ranks as his No. 1 concern, just as it did entering camp, especially since he can't seem to keep enough players healthy to have decent practices. Two rookies, tackle Mark May and guard Russ Grimm, and two players with rookie experience, guard Melvin Jones and center Jeff Bostic, have earned starting positions, leaving George Starke as the only veteran.
"I've been really happy with how everything has gone along here, except for losing Fred Dean and also what's happened to the line the last week or so," Gibbs said. "If we hadn't come up with so many injuries, I would have been a lot more pleased."
Defensive line: Everyone but Dave Butz and Karl Lorch has been inconsistent enough to cause Gibbs to wonder "when somebody is going to break out of the pack. We need to sort things out on the line pretty quickly. We are running out of time and we still haven't gotten many answers."
Joe Theismann's contract stalemate: This is a behind-the-scenes, simmering issue that isn't going to go away, despite the hopes of Redskin management. Theismann is an angry young man. He obviously has been deeply hurt by what his agent portrays as a slap in the face mask by the club, which has decided not to negotiate a new contract with him until after this season ends.
"I don't have anything to do with contracts, so this is all out of my hands," said Gibbs, who appears to be a man caught in the middle of a muddled situation. "And long ago, I decided that things I couldn't control I wouldn't worry about. I'm satisfied that Joe is playing hard."
Gibbs acknowledges he has met with Theismann to discuss the contract problem. "I just wanted to make sure how things stood," Gibbs said. "I asked him to get it resolved before the season began, either to sign a new contract or put off negotiations until after the season ended. They've put things off, which should take care of it."
But Theismann certainly doesn't act like a man at peace. Ed Keating, his agent, says Theismann is deeply bothered. A team source today portrayed the quarterback as "seething" over the situation. Keating warns that Theismann's ability to concentrate in practices and meetings "is not going to be the same. In games, he'll be okay, at least for a while. But is it fair to him to force him to play under these conditions?"
What Keating can't understand is why the Redskins would risk upsetting Theismann, the key man in Gibbs' new high-powered offense, when teams like Philadelphia and Buffalo have signed their quarterbacks to new contracts this summer.
Keating asks: "What does Joe have to do to prove himself again? He's already had two fine back-to-back seasons, but that apparently isn't enough. Don't you think that leaves him wondering if this team really appreciates him?"
It is apparent that when the Redskins saw that negotiations were going to long and involved, they decided it would be better to have a quarterback motivated by his desire for a new contract than one at ease with the security of an already signed new pact. It remains to be seen if that was a wise choice.
Theismann still has enjoyed one of the best camps of any Redskin player. Other standouts, according to Gibbs, include running backs John Riggins, Joe Washington and Terry Metcalf; tight end Don Warren; Starke ("he has to hold the line together"), and Lorch and Butz ("he's going to have a superior season"). Gibbs also says he is delighted with the secondary and the progress of the three young starting linebackers -- Monte Coleman, Rich Milot and Neal Olkewicz.
"How could you ask for a more pleasant surprise than to have our running back situation turn out like it has?" asked Gibbs. "There were question marks about all of them, but Metcalf, Washington and Riggins all have been super good."
And going into camp, who would have expected Bostic to be the No. 1 center, or May to catch on as the No. 1 left tackle, or Joe Jacoby to mature from a little-known free agent into the No. 3 tackle? The signing of linebacker Larry Kubin, the No. 6 pick, and the continued recovery of linebacker Brad Dusek (injured back) also have been pluses, as has the development of rookie receiver Charlie Brown.
But newcomers Fred Cook and Wilbur Young still have to establish themselves at defensive end. Mike Connell still is contending with the challenge of Mike Kirkland for his punting position. Gibbs still has to trim 15 players from a roster that already is the youngest in a decade.
"You can see leaders starting to emerge, but we still haven't been tested by any low points," Gibbs said. "Until we go through a low ebb, I won't know how we will hold up. Everything so far has been pretty upbeat. I try to get a feel for a team. Is it happy? Is it hard-working? Is there tension? Maybe more than anything else, those things determine how good you will be.
"I was concerned earlier about how smart we would play, but that's eased off. The offense is making progress, but there are still some things to be straightened out on defense and special teams. We are making mistakes that cost you games."
Camp opened with May's holdout and is ending with Theismann's contract stalemate. In between, only one player walked out -- rookie Gary Sayre -- a stark contrast to last summer's controversy-a-week situation. Except for his dilemma this week over cuts and his concern over line injuries, Gibbs has taken advantage of the relative peace to make an initial good impression on the players.
"The first few weeks everyone was up-tight, but we're relaxing more," he said. "There always will be tension in a new situation like this. But I think we are moving ahead. That's the important thing."