One day after the Washington Redskins treated this town to a Super Bowl championship, a new football team known as the Federals gathered on a practice field in Jacksonville. While this city and the Redskins celebrated accomplishments in a rain-sodden parade, the Federals searched for the talent among them in the winter sun.
Coach Ray Jauch had little more than a month to train and educate an assembly of 96 would-have-beens and still-could-bes. If Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has marble available to him, Jauch began with simple modeling clay, and he has trimmed and reshaped his material in the time alloted.
No one, least of all Jauch, expects his U.S. Football League team to come close to equaling the Redskins' performance in the National Football League, but the Federals are hoping they will not suffer too much by comparison.
"If we are competitive within our own league, we will look fine," Jauch said before practice yesterday. "It's only when there is no balance that you look bad."
Jauch's calm and even humor in the face of the hype and hypertension around him is disarming. Unlike his rival, Chicago Blitz Coach George Allen, Jauch seems easygoing and is philosophical about what he has done and what is possible.
"The game (Sunday's season opener) is almost upon us, isn't it?" he said. "We've done what we can do. If the Blitz is the best team in the league, like some people are saying, well, then, I'm glad we're testing ourselves against them. Because that's what we want to be. The best."
A few of Jauch's players, like defensive linemen Coy Bacon and Ron Estay, are as weathered as driftwood. But, generally speaking, the Federals are as green as saplings.
Quarterback Kim McQuilken brings some NFL experience to the team, but it remains to be seen if his physical abilities are equal to his leadership and intelligence. If not, Mike Hohensee, the Federals' fifth-round draft choice and an excellent college passer with Minnesota, may be starting before he has had a chance to acclimate himself to the more complicated professional game.
In the backfield, the Federals will depend heavily on rookie Craig James. If some were skeptical of James' speed, his performance in three preseason scrimmages was persuasive as he consistently broke into the opposing secondary and, sometimes, beyond.
James Mayberry, the fullback, has so far proved mediocre as a runner, but his blocking, both on the pass and run, has been valuable--all the more valuable because the offensive line is so young and uneven.
Maryland's Dave Pacella is playing well at right tackle, but the rest of the line, guards Chris Dolce and Myke Horton, center Bruce Byrom and tackle Joel Patten, need more experience, especially on pass protection.
The Blitz probably will be the only other team than Washington to play a 4-3 defense, and the Federals' line seems to handle the traditional alignment better than the 3-4 defenses it has faced. Also, the snaps between Byrom and the quarterbacks still need work, and the first few games may bring more fumbles than Jauch wants to see.
Tight end Phil Dubois and wide receivers Marc Brown and Reggie Smith have had their moments, but so far the coaches have not been satisfied. The addition this week of Joey Walters, the Canadian Football League standout, should help.
"We hope Joey gets some duty on Sunday, but we're not sure yet how much," said Jauch. "We're working with him after practice, getting him used to the routes and the quarterbacks."
The defensive line is the Federals' one seasoned element. Drew Taylor is playing in his fourth league (the NFL, CFL and World Football League previously), Bacon is a former NFL all-pro and Estay is a longtime CFL standout. Only tackle Bennie Smith, with one year as a pro, is inexperienced. But he has played well.
The linebackers are the weak point of the defense so far, and Jauch has said as much. Middle linebacker Ed Baxley is improving but outside linebackers Farley Bell and John Zupancic are inconsistent. Each has only one year's experience in the pros.
Jauch is concerned most with the preparation of his special teams. "We haven't worked on special teams much under game situations, and usually a mistake there is a critical one," he said. "If we can go through the game without a blocked kick or a fumbled ball, we will have accomplished something.
"There's just one thing," he said, after enumerating the strengths of Allen's recruits. "We're out to win. Nobody knows how good anybody is yet. As far as I know, nobody's played a game."