George Starke has played mother hen to the Redskins' young offensive linemen for the last eight weeks.
He's helped them with techniques, offered encouragement, served as a hustling example on the practice field, tried to convince them they can have fun even in the worst of times.
Yesterday, the nine-year veteran and only remaining line starter from last season looked over his brood, especially the four men who will join him in the opening offensive series against Dallas Sunday, and warned the Cowboys' front four not to get too eager too quickly.
"If we're going to have any problems in this game, it's not going to be the offensive line," said Starke, who predicted in training camp that the Redskins would have to "get lucky" for at least half a season until the line matured.
"I look at these people and I see enthusiasm and youth and a great desire to play," he said. "Those things are what matters, not how much experience you have. They aren't intimidated by the Cowboys. They haven't played them yet to find out what they should be intimidated about."
Starke readily admits the Dallas front four "is the best in football," but adds, "They aren't Supermen, they are just Cowboys. I played when I was young and I survived and we won. I have no reason to believe these people can't do the same thing. I think we've come along fast enough to be okay on Sunday."
Still, Starke may be one of the few humans in Washington optimistic about the Redskin line's ability to survive against Randy White and Co. Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs puts it this way: "They're the tops in football and we're trying something that no one else has ever tried, remaking a line with four new starters. You'd have to say that's the most obvious difference in the game."
The left side of the Redskin unit has two rookies from Pittsburgh, tackle Mark May and guard Russ Grimm. May, the No. 1 choice who was strictly a right tackle in college, will be blocking former Pro Bowler Harvey Martin. Grimm, the No. 3 choice who never played guard until this summer, will go against White, the best defensive tackle in pro football.
The right side has Starke, who will be renewing acquaintances with end Too Tall Jones, and guard Melvin Jones, who opens his NFL career against another former Pro Bowler, John Dutton. Center Jeff Bostic, getting his first pro start, has to worry about Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bob Breunig.
"They've got the ink," said Melvin Jones, the four-by-four, 280-pound strongman who spent last season on injured reserve before learning how to pass-block in training camp. "But I've never been beaten by ink before. They are going to have to prove it to me. If they think, just because we're young, they're going to be able to do anything they want, well, they better think again."
May knows all about the nuances of "ink." In camp, he received a lot of publicity, some of which informed him he wasn't supposed to be able to play left tackle. After four preseason games (he gave up three sacks), he believes he's ready to disprove that claim, even against Harvey Martin.
"I'll certainly find out Sunday if I'm right," he said. "Harvey doesn't do a lot of things but what he does, he does well. I feel comfortable at left tackle now. I played all but three plays during the exhibitions, so either I stood up or I was going to be embarrassed."
If the line holds up, quarterback Joe Theismann will get a chance to feast on the most inexperienced Cowboy secondary in his three full seasons as a starter. But with the Dallas front four coming after him, he will not have much time to throw.
"It's always been that way -- you think you can work on their secondary only if you get the time," Theismann said. "The Cowboys cover a lot with man-to-man. They tell you, okay, see if you have the time to beat our coverage. See if you can control our front four."
Will he get that precious time?
"I think so," Theismann said. "People are underestimating this line. First, they are really strong and really physical. And Joe Bugel has taught them great techniques. I was getting viewing distance on my drop-backs in preseason. They were keeping people away from me. It was great.
"And a quarterback can help a line. I can make quick reads, quick decisions. Don't hang onto the ball very long. That causes sacks, and it makes the line look bad.
"Look, I know how good that front four is. Randy White does more to disrupt a defense than any player in the league. We aren't going to shut them out, but who has?"
Says Bugel, the man responsible for molding the line: "We aren't going to use inexperience as a scapegoat. We've put pressure on them, we've driven them. I don't think they are going to fold. Why can't a guy 22 play as well as a guy 30? If they go after it hard enough, age doesn't really matter."
Grimm insists he's not lying awake at night having nightmares about White. He's not even bringing home extra film to study because he wants to keep his mind fresh.
But he admits if someone told him a year ago that he would begin his pro career by playing against White, he would have a ready answer: "You're crazy."
"I was a center then and I was drafted as a center," said Grimm, whose development at guard has been hindered by a bad ankle. "I never had played guard before. Now I figure I'm going to come out of this game a better player than I was going into it. I'm sure I'll learn a lot playing against him."
Is Grimm intimidated by his assignment?
"There are two ways to look at it," he said. "You can think he's the best defensive tackle in pro football, and let that sink in. Or you can think you are getting a chance to go against the best.