The Washington Redskins ate cake and ice cream after practice yesterday, their usual Wednesday treat following a Sunday victory. But linebacker Monte Coleman, his left shoulder still aching from a blow earlier in the day, already was dressed and ready to go home.
Coleman's hopes for an injury-free season had been dealt another setback during practice, taking away his appetite. This injury was diagnosed as a mild shoulder strain, but it still was bad enough to keep him from starting for the second straight week.
Coleman first hurt his shoulder last week in a collision with Otis Wonsley. Yesterday, he reinjured it when he used his arm to shove off a blocker. Pain flashed through his arm.
"Nothing popped, so I knew I didn't dislocate or separate it," he said. "I just knew it wasn't right."
"The injury probably isn't as bad as what it does to Monte mentally," said Larry Peccatiello, the linebacker coach. "He really takes these things hard; he gets down on himself. He wants to succeed so badly, but he has to be able to take these things in stride. They are going to happen."
Coleman should be well enough by Sunday, for the game against the Eagles, to do what he did last week against the Giants: play on the nickel defense unit. But Mel Kaufman most likely will be starting at linebacker, and staying on the field when the Redskins expect the Eagles to run.
Kaufman started six games last year as a rookie, and Peccatiello said he did a creditable job against the Giants. "He filled in very well, which makes it easier to take Monte's injury," Peccatiello said. "It allows us to let Monte heal and use him in nickel situations, instead of rushing him in."
Still, Coleman has the talent to be the Redskins' best linebacker. He is imposing physically at 6 feet 2, 230 pounds, and has spent hours in the weight room building strength. He also is the team's fastest linebacker, quick enough to cover halfbacks on pass plays.
He even had made progress in training camp in correcting his most glaring weakness: hesitation on running plays. This had appeared to be the year he became the star everyone has thought he would be since he became a Jack Pardee favorite as a rookie four seasons ago. But he can't seem to avoid being hurt.
"I'm pretty down," said Coleman, who fractured his shoulder the second game last season. "The shoulder felt real good today before practice, the best it's felt since I first hurt it (last Thursday). Then to have this happen. I'm just discouraged that this had to happen. It keeps happening."
"Maybe it's just as well it happened today," said Peccatiello, "because it told us he's not ready to go full time yet. We might have rushed it a little bit, but now we will pull back.
"When Monte is healthy, he is the starter. When he isn't healthy, Mel is."
That leaves Kaufman in a peculiar position.
"I'm not complaining about not starting," he said. "That's the coach's decision. I just try to play as well as I can. But sometimes I feel like I am a spot player. I hope I won't be a sixth man all my life. I never strive to be second in anything I do and I'd like to be able to say I've earned a position instead of stepping in for someone else. I'd get more satisfaction that way."
Could he earn a starting spot while Coleman is injured?
"I don't think there is any chance in the world Monte won't start when he is healthy," Kaufman said. "That's just how I feel. I thought I played okay against the Giants and I guess the coaches did, too. But Monte and Rich (Milot) were the starters in camp and they were the starters the first two games and that's how it will continue."
Fullback John Riggins was held out of practice yesterday because of a sore big toe. But Coach Joe Gibbs said he will play Sunday. "With John out, it allowed us to give Joe Washington more work," Gibbs said. "I thought Joe looked good. He said he felt good last week, too, but he was moving just as well today."
Washington played sparingly against the Giants, but should carry more times this week. He looked exceptionally quick running in practice, and took a full turn in the passing drills.
Redskins are dominating the National Football Conference statistics. Riggins (272 yards) is leading in rushing, Joe Theismann is No. 1 in passing -- he also leads the league -- and kicker Mark Moseley is first with 31 points. Art Monk is second in catches with 18, three behind San Francisco's Dwight Clark . . . Theismann has competed 67 percent of his passes . . . The Redskins are fourth offensively and eighth defensively among conference teams . . . Gibbs attributed the Redskins' lack of injuries Sunday to their accelerated weight program. "The weight program is starting to show returns," he said. "It's made us more competitive and stronger."