The Washington Redskins, hoping to enliven their special teams, re-signed aggressive running back Ricky Claitt yesterday. To make room for the Bethune-Cookman second-year player, they released defensive back Trent Bryant, a rookie out of Arkansas.
Claitt, signed as a free agent last year, was a standout on the special teams in 1980 and in the first three exhibition games this summer before he was released. But injuries to key special team personnel and a disastrous showing in Sunday's 40-30 debacle in St. Louis forced Redskin officials to make a move.
"Ricky was brought back specifically to play on the special teams because he was an excellent player for us in that area," Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach, said yesterday at Redskin Park. "You take a guy like Ricky and put him out there and already you've improved your teams 10 percent. He's an aggressive hitter and, yes, he will play (Sunday in Philadephia) on all four units."
In addition to adding Claitt to the kickoff and kickoff return, punt and punt return teams, Sevier has made other personnel adjustments.
"There were no major changes, we just moved people to different positions where we feel they may be more successful," Sevier said. "For instance, we took Jeris White and put him inside instead of outside. Since Darryl Grant is hurt (foot) we'll alternate Mark Murphy, Rich Milot and Tony Peters on the kickoff teams. If we kick off six times, each one would be out there twice. When Grant returns, we'll take off the least efficient guy out there."
Sevier and Coach Joe Gibbs expressed disappointment over the lack of execution and intensity on the special teams Sunday.
"When you see all four units break down in one game, there's definitely a lack of intensity," Sevier said, "and it's not all 11, it might be just one player. We expect these changes to produce a better effort Sunday.
"Special teams don't get any attention until someone makes a mistake. We had good play in the exhibition games and no one said a word. If we don't do anything really good Sunday, like recover a fumble or something, we at least expect to break even. Philadelphia has excellent special teams."
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Claitt, nicknamed "the mouth" for his nonstop pep and cheerleading monologues, almost wasn't available. Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Miami showed interest in the running back.
"I was sitting home (Orlando, Fla.) waiting for someone to call. Coach Gibbs told me when I was released that I might be re-signed if one of the backs went down or he needed help," said Claitt, who rushed for 215 yards and scored twice in 1980. "Sure, I was disappointed I was released but I understood why. It's tough to keep seven running backs.
"Suddenly I get all these calls on Monday. When Miami called, I thought 'Geez, they're 3-0 and the Redskins are 0-3. You wonder about that Super Bowl money. But I talked to my lawyer and told him that I liked Washington and I wanted to go where I knew the guys and this was my first choice."
The Washington system hasn't changed since Claitt's departure so he had no problems working out on the units yesterday.
"I had a pretty good game against Baltimore in the preseason and I knew what to do when I came back," he said. "If it's not time for me to run the ball on offense, it's not time. Special teams play is part of the game and if that's where I'm needed and I'll be playing, fine. Someone has to do the job and if I can lift someone's morale, I will. I like to talk because it's the only way to learn. Special teamers have to think on the same line and communicate. I just want to play football."
One special teamer who spent a couple of extra minutes practicing yesterday was punter Mike Connell. He fumbled away a snap against the Cardinals, who turned the error into six points.
"For some reason, the eye contact wasn't there that time. The snap was perfect but just as I started forward the ball flew out of my hands. Totally my fault," said Connell, averaging 40.6 on 19 punts. "After handling so many snaps, it's bound to happen once. I overexaggerated catching the snaps today just for my own benefit. It's nothing I plan to worry about because it's almost automatic. I was so anxious to get back in the game and hit another punt but I never got the chance.