The Redskins ended their one-sided training camp punting duel today by waiving veteran Mike Connell and keeping rookie Jeff Hayes, who also received a bonus: he will replace Mark Moseley as Washington's kickoff man.
The Redskins also made another significant change. Backup quarterback Tom Flick, who has been struggling in preseason, was given at least a temporary demotion. He was dropped behind rookie Bob Holly, an 11th-round choice from Princeton who has yet to play in an exhibition game.
The decision to cut Connell was not surprising, considering the Redskins' unhappiness with his punting last season and Hayes' consistency during training camp.
Hayes made the final move easier after an impressive performance against Tampa Bay Saturday night, when he had punts of 50 and 57 yards and two unreturned kickoffs that landed in the end zone.
Now Washington thinks Hayes, a free agent from North Carolina, may develop from what Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach, called "a potential phenom."
"He's a heck of a punter with tremendous talent," Coach Joe Gibbs said of Hayes. "He's as good a kickoff man as you've ever seen. He could be super. Every now and then, he'll hit an inconsistent ball, but not that often.
"By having him kick off, it will take the strain off Mark's leg. If he could put the ball in the end zone four times a game, that would save us a lot of returns yards."
Gibbs was more subdued discussing the backup quarterback situation. He declined to say that Flick, in his second pro season, was being demoted, although he acknowledged Holly would be receiving additional work in practice and playing time Friday against Buffalo in RFK Stadium.
"Bob will play in front of Tom Friday," Gibbs said. "Tom hasn't been playing the way we like him to play and we wanted to give Holly a shot as quickly as we can. He'll get a lot more work in practice this week."
Flick had a lock on the reserve spot entering training camp, but his back-to-back inconsistent efforts in preseason games have disrupted the Redskins' plans.
Although it wouldn't be surprising to see Washington acquire a veteran quarterback on waivers soon, the Redskins also want to see if Holly has enough ability to ease the current situation. Meanwhile, Flick is left in a quarterback's no-man's land, since it is difficult for more than two players at his position to get sufficient work in practice. And without work, he will have difficulty regaining last season's form.
Flick said he didn't know what to make of the change, but otherwise declined comment.
Holly did not play as well as Chris Garrity, a free agent from William and Mary, in early training camp. But the Redskins respect Holly's throwing arm and have been anxious to see him perform in a game.
At Princeton, he threw for 2,622 yards as a senior to lead the Ivy League in both passing and total offense. He threw only 11 interceptions in his last 425 college passes.
Flick's troubles have the Redskins puzzled. He progressed nicely last season despite limited experience and had shown added maturity early in training camp. But now he appears to be pressing, especially after a nightmarish exhibition performance against Miami in which he received inept line protection.
Hayes was delighted with the punting decision, particularly because Sevier had told both punters that their showing against Tampa Bay would have a significant effect on the outcome of their duel.
"I felt we were dead even after the Miami game," Hayes said, "and if I didn't do well against Tampa, I'd be one of the cuts today. They knew what Connell could do. I had to show them what I could do.
"When the game was done, I was happy. I had a good game, I had punted and kicked off well and I think I gave them a good picture. Then it was just a matter of waiting. I didn't know if they wanted to go through another game or not before making a decision."
Hayes first caught the Redskins' attention in training camp with a punt that stayed in the air for 5.45 seconds, which Sevier says is the best he has ever timed. Then his kickoffs consistently landed deep in the end zone. Sevier said then it was a matter of Hayes showing what he could do in a game.
"Going into Tampa he was ahead and coming out there was no question," Sevier said. "Jeff's best punt in that game (57 yards) already was longer than any punt Mike had last year. But I still think Mike is the fiercest competitor I've ever been around. He scratches and claws. Jeff just is better."
Connell, who beat out Mike Bragg in 1979, was coming off the best year of his career. He had a 40-yard average, but still was 21st in the league. He also never produced what Sevier called "the spectacular punt. You knew he wouldn't botch any, but he never boomed any, either." Hayes, however, has shown the potential to be produce those long, towering kicks that have made Ray Guy an all-pro for so long.
Hayes was a punter and place-kicker in high school, but did only place-kicking in college until his senior year. He averaged 41.8 yards and was all-conference, but he wasn't spectacular enough to be drafted.
He since has perfected his drop and increased his leg strength. Although he is not particularly big (5-foot-10 1/2, 175 pounds), he has impressive leg speed on his punts and kickoffs, which generates extra distance.
The decision to take away Moseley's kickoff duties is a gamble. Although he isn't kicking as deep as he once did, his high, lazy attempts were difficult to field and gave coverage teams plenty of time to get downfield. The Redskins led the league in kickoff coverage last year.
But all of Moseley's recent leg injuries, including one last season, have come when he was kicking off. The Redskins believe this could prolong his career, if he can hold off the challenge of rookie place-kicker Dan Miller. And they also realize that opponents returned only 17 of Hayes' 64 kicks last year.
"I'd rather do both kickoffs and field goals because that's what I'm being paid for," Moseley said. "But the coaches are being paid to make these decisions. There is no question this will make it easier on my leg. I wouldn't be surprised if it prolonged my career."
Ironically, Hayes might never have been signed by the Redskins if the North Carolina punter he replaced, Steve Streater, had not been paralyzed in a car accident hours after agreeing to a Washington contract in 1981. Streater had a much better college average than Hayes.
Besides Connell, the Redskins cut five players and put two, defensive lineman Calvin Clark and defensive back Scott Montana, on injured reserve. They have to cut one more to get to Tuesday's limit of 70.
Waived were three draft choices: linebacker Jeff Goff and defensive ends Randy Trautman and Ralph Warthen. Also cut were center Gary Anderson and defensive back Ricky Ray.
Goff, a 12th-round pick from Arkansas, had been impressive in early camp and appeared to have a shot at making the final roster. But he tailed off badly the last 10 days.
Of the players injured against Tampa Bay, running back Nick Giaquinto (sprained ankle) is the most serious. He probably will miss at least one game. Ends Dexter Manley (hip pointer) and Mike Clark (ankle sprain) did not practice today.