The Washington Redskins will play the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game Friday night at 7:30 at RFK Stadium. For the Redskins, special attention will be given to reserve quarterback Tom Owen and punter Jeff Hayes, two players trying to reverse recent struggles.
The game, which is not sold out and will not be televised in Washington, marks the Redskins' first return to RFK Stadium since all that January jubilation. At that time, they were knocking Dallas out of the NFC title game, while defensive end Dexter Manley was knocking Cowboys' quarterback Danny White out cold.
After a light morning workout here today, Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs gave his standard pre-preseason game analysis: "We'll stay with our starters for as long as it takes, depending on how they do. It's really strictly how I feel."
Meanwhile, Cincinnati Coach Forrest Gregg said that quarterback Ken Anderson likely will play only two series Friday night, before giving way to reserves Turk Schonert and rookie Jeff Christiansen. Both coaches stressed that the young players will get most of the playing time, what with NFL rosters having to be trimmed to 60 players by Tuesday. (Right now, the Redskins' have 85 players.)
"They are a hard team to get ready for," Gibbs said. "They have one of the most complex defenses we will play. Actually, I wish there was a rule that you had to play basic defenses in the preseason. It's hard enough to get a look at young players against a basic look, without having them get confused out there against a complex (defense)."
Gibbs said today that Owen, a 10-year veteran trying to emerge from a disappointing training camp and secure a spot on the team, will be the first to replace starter Joe Theismann Friday night.
"Tom's the guy I want to look at," Gibbs said. Right now, it seems that Bob Holly, second-year player from Princeton, is the Redskins' No. 2 quarterback, while Owen competes with rookie Babe Laufenberg for the final spot.
"It's just like any other game. I'll be ready. My philosophy is simple," Owen said today.
Owen's performance Friday night is crucial to his chances to make the team and complete a decade in the NFL. "I think this is probably one of the most important games of Tom's career," Theismann said. "From what I've been able to gather, I think he is fighting for his job."
Entering his second camp, it seeemed Hayes wouldn't have such a fight. But the Redskins' starting punter had four punts for a 29.5 yard average in last Saturday's 13-10 overtime loss in Atlanta. That included a nine-yard punt and a whole lot of frustrtaion.
"I wasn't really worried about our punting at all in the offseason," Gibbs said. "That's why I was surprised last week."
"This will be a good week to prove to the people of Washington that I can punt," Hayes said, aware that reserve punters Dave Smigelsky and former Washington Federal Steve Hoffman still are around, and still want his job.
Certainly, the Redskins have had their share of off-the-field troubles during the training camp's past month. Cornerback Jeris White is still holding out, the offensive line has depth problems that caused it to seek assistance this week from the league waiver wire, and strong safety Tony Peters and reserve running back Clarence Harmon now face drug-related charges and uncertain futures.
But the Bengals have had it just as bad. Worse, really. Tight end Dan Ross and wide receiver Cris Collinsworth have both said they will leave Cincinnati for the U.S. Football League, after the 1983 and 1984 NFL seasons, respectively.
Running back Pete Johnson and defensive end Ross Browner have been suspended without pay through the fourth week of the 16-game regular season by Commissioner Pete Rozelle. This came after the two were given immunity from prosecution in a federal drug case and testified to having purchased cocaine on several occasions. To rejoin the Bengals, both players must petition the league for reinstatement after the fourth game of the year.
One trouble was alleviated for the Bengals last Thursday, though, when Anthony Munoz, 6-foot-6, 278-pound all-pro offensive tackle, reported to camp, ending his holdout.
The Bengals had enough troubles on the field last week, losing to Kansas City, 24-7, allowing the Chiefs to transform a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal into touchdowns.
Before they compiled a 12-1 overall record and won the Super Bowl last year, the Redskins were 0-4 in the preseason.
"Everybody was kind of edgy then," recalled tight end Don Warren. "The players were edgy and so were the fans. We were 0-4 and nobody was really sure how good we would be."
"Obviously, you don't want to go 0-4," Gibbs said today. "As a coach, you're torn. It takes a little bit of discipline. You tell yourself, 'Hey, I want to keep those starters in there until this thing is won.' But it has always been this way: No. 1, make evaluations; No. 2, win the game."
Really, it hasn't always been this way. Defensive tackle Dave Butz, entering his 11th NFL season and his eighth Redskins' season, provides the voice of Redskins' past, noting, "(Former Coach George) Allen used to play the preseason with the first group in there all the time. He wanted our presence felt right away.
"Then, (former Coach Jack) Pardee played it as somewhat of a mixture with rookies and veterans. Now, Coach Gibbs tries to give all the young guys a fair chance, by exposing them to tough game situations. He does this so that when he puts them in a tough situation in a real game, they will be able to handle it.
"So really, we have come full circle," said Butz.
Agreement appears close between Manley and the Redskins on a new contract that would engance his $60,000 salary this season and run for two more years after that. "I will meet with Dexter in the morning," General Manager Bobby Beathard said tonight...Gibbs said of veteran running back Joe Washington, who continues to look stronger in practice, "If Joe plays (Friday night), it will only be for a little." Washington suffered a knee injury during the preseason last year . . . Gibbs said veteran Mike Nelms and top draft pick Darrell Green will alternate punt returns Friday night.