The Washington Redskins will be looking for answers to a wide variety of questions Saturday night (8 o'clock, WJLA-TV-7, WMAL-630) when they play the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason opener before an announced sellout of 60,763 at Fulton County Stadium.
In particular, an insight into the psyche of the defending Super Bowl champions should be gained. This has been an emotionally trying training camp for the Redskins, whose stability has been challenged in some respects.
First, the Redskins have had to come to grips with the continued holdout of Jeris White, the 10-year cornerback seeking a three-year, $1 million contract (including incentives and bonuses).
Then there is the formal grievance record-setting kicker Mark Moseley has filed against the team. Moseley wants $30,000 in incentive bonus money he claims the team owes him because of his performance last year.
Then came Wednesday's arrest of strong safety Tony Peters on a cocaine-trafficking charge. Players were shocked after hearing that federal agents came to their training-camp dormitory that morning and took away Peters, a Pro Bowl starter last year.
"I'll be able to tell where we stand (emotionally) Saturday night," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "You can never tell or predict about these things."
"We're at the end of the third week of training camp and we're all a little tired. I guess some (players) weren't really into practice (Thursday afternoon)," said quarterback Joe Theismann. "I don't know how much of it has to do with Tony. Maybe a plane flight, going down to play Atlanta in a game, will help us all out."
Certainly, there will be numerous tests of the Redskins' personnel, especially the reserve quarterbacks: Bob Holly (second year), rookie Babe Laufenberg and Tom Owen, the 10-year veteran who has been ineffective in practice so far.
And then there is the Redskins' thin offensive line. Most notably, rookies such as Nathan Newton and Bob Winckler and third-year veteran Darryl Grant, converted to offensive guard from defensive tackle, will be closely watched.
Such tests arise because starting right guard Mark May (partial tear of right triceps) is out, because starting left tackle Joe Jacoby (sprained lower back) will play gingerly, at best, and because Fred Dean, starting guard in the Super Bowl, has taken his versatility to the U.S. Football League.
The suddenly youthful secondary also will be tested, most notably LeCharls McDaniel (a third-year reserve) and top draft pick Darrell Green at White's left cornerback spot, and first-time starter Ken Coffey and veteran Curtis Jordan at Peters' strong safety position. Rookie free agent Vic Vines, a hard hitter from Baylor, will also get a chance at strong safety.
The importance of winning exhibition games can be debated for hours. The Redskins trudged through an 0-4 preseason last year, but lost only one game thereafter. George Allen used to stress the importance of preseason victories but, in his seven years as Redskins coach, was 23-18-2 in exhibition games.
Gibbs has a 3-5 preseason record as Washington's coach and says, "We will start with our front-line people. On offense, we'll go until we get accomplished what we want to get done. You have to set your priorities in preseason. Winning is important, but you have to take a look at your young players."
Gibbs said John Riggins will start in the Redskins' one-back offense, although he isn't likely to play much. The real scrutiny will be accorded rookies Richard Williams, drafted in the second round from Memphis State, and Marcus Gilbert, a ninth-round pick from Texas Christian.
Williams, a 6-foot, 205-pounder, has been disappointing thus far. Earlier this week, he attributed his troubles to personal problems at home. "I've got myself back on the right track. I believe I will make this team. I have to believe that as much as anything," Williams said.
"The way I see it, Saturday night will either make me or break me," said Gilbert, whose 5-foot-10, 195-pound physique has powered forward for three short-yardage touchdowns in two scrimmages against the Baltimore Colts.
In Atlanta, the Redskins will be facing an old friend, Dan Henning, who was assistant head coach in charge of Washington's offense last year, before becoming the Falcons' head coach. Henning has instituted a one-back set on offense, using William Andrews as his version of Riggins.
The Redskins waived rookie wide receiver Ray Arnold (Cal State-Hayward), trimming their roster to 84 players. NFL rosters must be reduced to 60 by Aug. 16 . . . Fulton Kuykendall, the Falcons' starting inside linebacker, broke his hand in a recent scrimmage and will not play.