The Redskin coaches probably will finish an evaluation of the mistake-prone special teams today that could affect punter Mike Connell and a number of starters who probably will be asked to take on additional duties with the kicking units.
There is unhappiness at Redskin Park with Connell's inconsistency this season, especially after he fumbled a snap and kicked a line-drive punt that was returned for a touchdown in Sunday's game at St. Louis.
But apparently no decision had been made yesterday about his future with the team. Mike Kirkland and Dave Smigelsky, beaten out by Connell in preseason, are free agents, as are a number of veteran punters cut by other NFL clubs.
Connell is averaging 40.6 yards, with a net of 33.0. He has had one punt partially blocked, along with the return for a touchdown. His gross average last year, when he displaced longtime punter Mike Bragg, was 39.2 after a slow start.
Coach Joe Gibbs said he hoped the special teams evaluation would result in finding a nucleus "of seven or eight guys who meet every day with Wayne Sevier (the special teams coach) and who take pride in playing on the teams.
"They have to play great every week; we can't afford to have any more bad weeks. We have to find the right players, even if it means using some starters on the special teams."
Gibbs said the Redskins would "never be a complete team as long as we are playing in segments. We need to play a total team concept. Until we reach that point, we will keep having problems like we have the first few weeks."
The only optimistic news for the Redskins yesterday concerned injuries.
Guard Russ Grimm, who aggravated his sore knee Sunday, underwent arthroscopic surgery that determined he had no major ligament or cartilage damage. A cartilage fragment was removed from the knee, and Gibbs said Grimm could return after missing only the next game, in Philadelphia.
Center Jeff Bostic's knee, hurt in the final moments of the Cardinal game, was sore but was not damaged seriously. Gibbs said it was "touch and go" whether Bostic could play against the Eagles, although he said he expected the second-year player would start.
With Grimm out, the Redskins' only other available center is rookie Darryl Grant, who has a foot stress fracture.
The expected changes in the special teams probably will result in some roster changes. During the preseason, the Redskins cut a number of fine special team players such as Ike Forte, Dallas Hickman and Rickey Claitt. Hickman is with Baltimore; the other veterans remain free agents.
One of the starters who could wind up on special teams is tight end Don Warren. With the linebackers hobbled by injuries, team officials feel they need to use all three tight ends, Warren, Rick Walker and Gregg McCrary, on the kicking units.
Other veterans who could be affected include reserve cornerback Jeris White, whose special teams load is likely to increase, and reserve running back Clarence Harmon, the unofficial special teams captain.
"We are just trying to make some smart judgments," Gibbs said. "The thing that has hurt us the most so far on special teams has been injuries. Guys would get hurt on defense and we had to pull someone off special teams to start. And then some guys we counted on to play well just didn't do a good job in the St. Louis game. It was just a very poor effort overall."
Along with injuries, the roster turnover this season (22 of 45 players are new) stripped the special teams of many veterans.
For example, on the kickoff coverage team, only Harmon, White and Mike Nelms, who has a broken thumb, remain from last season. And only four of the 11 players were part of that unit at the end of the preseason. On the kickoff return team, just Harmon and Nelms remain from 1980, and only four in all are left from the preseason unit. On punt protection, Harmon, Walker, Nelms and Bostic are left from last year and six players remain from the preseason. On the punt return unit, Nelms, Walker, White and Tony Peters remain from 1980 and five are left from the preseason.
"We just haven't had a chance to develop any continuity," Harmon said. "With so few veterans and so many injuries and changes, guys are scrambling from week to week to learn their assignments.
"Because I'm a veteran, they sort of look up at me as an example, and I've been disappointed with the way I've played. I have to do better, we all do. We've got the talent, but things have to settle down. We've been good here before because so many were veterans and they were comfortable with what they were doing."
The extra emphasis on the special teams comes as Gibbs is searching for a way to win before player morale starts deteriorating. He said yesterday he thought his players are holding up well despite the 0-3 start.
"We just have to dedicate ourselves to steady improvement," he said. "I feel we are going to be a good club, but not until we improve on some of the things that keep coming up."
Gibbs said a penalty against Dexter Manley for illegal use of the hands on punt coverage against St. Louis "was a joke. If you want to take a flag and toss it (on every play) you could. What infuriates me is the inconsistency of the thing" . . . Fullback John Riggins worked out yesterday and should be able to play Sunday . . . Wilbert Montgomery, the Eagles' star runner, probably will miss only Sunday's game; his injury, a pulled leg muscle, was not as serious as first believed, according to Coach Dick Vermeil . . . The Redskins' 521 yards against St. Louis was their best output since 1950 . . . Defensive end Mat Mendenhall, linebacker Neal Olkewicz (15 tackles), fullback Wilbur Jackson, tight end Walker and guard Joe Jacoby (playing for Grimm) all had fine games against the Cardinals.