The Redskins made a significant decision today by acquiring backup quarterback Tom Owen from New England in exchange for Tom Flick. And they may be faced with making another soon, depending in part on how well linebacker Brad Dusek plays Friday night against Buffalo.
The move to obtain Owen, a nine-year veteran who has played in only two games the past two years, came after Flick, who had been considered Joe Theismann's heir apparent, struggled noticeably in the first two exhibition games.
Flick, a fourth-round selection in 1981, was the personal draft choice of Coach Joe Gibbs, who rated him higher than Neil Lomax, who was drafted by St. Louis and is now the Cardinals' starter. But Gibbs said today he feels "much more comfortable" about his reserve quarterback situation now that he has a veteran available if Theismann is injured.
Owen, who is in the option year of his contract and wanted to be traded, was expendable because New England already has two veteran quarterbacks, Steve Grogan and Matt Cavanaugh. With Owen's acquisition, the Redskins now hope to slowly groom Bob Holly, an 11th-round choice this year out of Princeton, as their possible quarterback of the future.
Dusek, who has come back from serious injuries the past two years, is being confronted with the stiffest challenge of his nine-year career. He is being pressed vigorously for his starting right-linebacker position by Rich Milot and Mel Kaufman, both of whom are younger, stronger and quicker, but less experienced.
Larry Peccatiello, the linebackers' coach, said that the Redskins "have to make up our minds soon (about a starter). How soon? "Well, after this weekend we could be making some determinations in that area. If we can hold off longer, we will. It just depends on how everyone plays. But time is running short.
"Brad's in a very competitive situation. He's getting pushed by some people who have enjoyed a pretty good camp. But he's played only two quarters so far in the preseason, and he really hasn't been tested. We know he has a tendency to play games better than he practices. We are aware of his ability to excel in games, and that's always in our thinking. In games, he can take advantage of his experience and his preparation."
Regarding the quarterbacks, neither Flick nor Owens is expected to play for their new teams this weekend. Flick, who was informed of the trade just after the Redskins had their last training-camp practice of the summer, said he was relieved.
"I feel refreshed," said Flick, who was demoted behind Holly this week. "I know what happened to me. I got burned out. As it turned out, when I knew I had a chance to play this preseason, I put so much pressure on myself to play well, I let things build up too much . . . It got to a point where there was nothing else in the world except Carlisle.
"I got so caught up in it. I didn't want to let Bobby (Beathard) or Joe (Gibbs) down. What I should have done some days was just finish practice and walk down the street (instead of doing extra work). I got so involved in it, it all worked in reverse. I pressed so hard it backfired."
It was this inability to handle pressure, although he was not being challenged for his job, that convinced the Redskins Flick would be ineffective the rest of the season. That decision triggered the trade.
But Flick, who played in six games last year, said it struck him "as odd that a couple of (bad) weeks out of my career and the Redskins' opinion of me changes. I didn't think I was the entire cause of two poor halves; that's ridiculous . . . I know I can play but Joe made his decision. It wasn't that painful for me, but I hate to leave here. I really liked it. This is like starting over again."
Owen, who was drafted originally by the San Francisco 49ers in 1974 and was included in a 1976 trade for Jim Plunkett, is represented by Howard Slusher, who held cornerback Jeris White out of the Redskins' training camp two years over a contract problem. But Beathard said he talked to Slusher and was assured that Owen would report to Washington.
Owen sat out most of the 1980 season because of a contract problem and never played a game. Last year, he appeared twice, starting his only game as a Patriot, and wound up completing 15 of 36 passes for 218 yards. For his career, he is 170 of 349 for 2,300 yards, 14 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. Since his rookie year, when he threw for 1,327 yards, he has not passed for more than 318 yards in a season. He played in only 16 games in that span.
"What we need right now is a solid backup behind Joe," Gibbs said. "Tom (Flick) was on track last year, but his progress in this camp was not where I expected it to be."
Gibbs described Owen as "a guy who has confidence in himself, even when something happens bad to him on the field . . . At one point in his career, people were asking for No. 1s and 2s for him."
Owen said he was excited by the trade, which removes him from what he called a tough situation. "They had a couple of guys ahead of me here but they didn't want to let me go, either. Now I'm going into a situation where I can play every now and then. Washington could be a great opportunity."
Although he has been used sparingly, Owen said he has maintained some degree of sharpness "by keeping mentally ready and practicing hard. I'm the type of guy who can come off the bench and play."
The decision about Dusek's linebacker spot has become more difficult because no one has stepped out to win the job.
Dusek, who is 32, once started 74 straight games for the Redskins but has been slowed the last two seasons by serious injuries: a hamstring pull in 1980 and a back operation followed by a shoulder dislocation last year. He also has had to adjust to moving from the left to the right side, to make room for Monte Coleman.
Dusek says he is aware of his challengers, aware that this is the "deepest set of linebackers we've had since I've been here," aware that former teammates, like the late Harold McLinton, also lost jobs under similar circumstances.
"I feel like I still can play," he said, "but all I can do is my best. You really don't think about who is doing what. I can't do it well enough, I'll find out pretty quickly. I just use the experience I have.
"I've been in this a long time and you see what goes on and what has happened to other people. I'm not going to play that much longer, but, heck, young kids have come in other years, too. I'll play somewhere, I know that."
Dusek received a hint that this might not be a normal preseason for him when the Redskins used him on special teams. That's a chore that usually goes to much younger players, but Peccatiello said the coaches are "trying to check out every avenue. Using Brad like that was by design; we wanted to see what he could do. He made one play even though he lost his helmet."
The Redskins will not be hasty in deciding Dusek's future. There isn't a more popular player on the squad, either with his teammates or the coaches. He is a delightful person, humorous and upbeat, with the ability to keep practices or meetings alive with a well-timed quip.
His game experience is his greatest asset, his major advantage over Milot and Kaufman. He already is being replaced on passing downs by Milot, a move the Redskins made last year. He'll keep his spot this season if he can play the run better than his two rivals. But if he isn't a starter, it may be hard for Washington to keep him because of his age.
"We'd like to see one guy play full-time there," Peccatiello said. "It's better for continuity reasons. Brad has been banged around pretty good the last few years and it's definitely slowed him down and he realizes it. But when he can zero in on one team during game preparation and learn their tendencies, he can use his experience to make up for some of the other problems."
Milot, 25 and beginning his fourth season, also has had injury problems, including shoulder and knee ailments last year that ended a strong starting challenge.
The surprise challenger is Kaufman, last year's free agent who wound up starting six games. He is 10 pounds heavier now (up to 225) and stronger, thanks to an offseason weight program. He has been the most consistent of all the linebackers in camp