Running backs Clarence Harmon and Richard Williams, the latter the team's second-round draft pick, and reserve quarterback Tom Owen were released yesterday as the Washington Redskins trimmed 11 players to reach the National Football League's final roster limit of 49.
With a logic born of seven weeks of the preseason and six hours of meetings among coaches and scouts Sunday night, the Redskins released 10 players in all. They also placed rookie linebacker Geff Gandy, drafted in the 10th round from Baylor, on the injured reserve list because of a knee injury.
The other players released were linebacker Quentin Lowry, rookie offensive tackle Nathan Newton, running back Reggie Evans, tight end Van Heflin, cornerback Greg Jones, defensive tackle Pat Ogrin and veteran center Art Kuehn.
Neither Harmon nor Williams could be reached for comment. Owen, a 10-year reserve in the league who remains ever-upbeat, said, "I've already been contacted by a couple NFL teams. If some team has got some quarterback gone down (hurt) and they need somebody, I'll see what happens."
Harmon, 27, a seven-year veteran, came to Redskin Park early yesterday morning to clear out his locker and to remove the pictures of his children that hung in his small cubicle.
He gained just four yards and caught three passes in limited preseason playing time, and faces a cocaine possession charge in Texarkana, Tex., that, if he is convicted, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. After learning of Harmon's release, Spencer Kopf, his attorney, said he requested the Bowie County (Tex.) Court to hold a hearing as soon as possible.
"It's one of the things you don't like about this job," Gibbs said. "Clarence has been here three years. You spend so much time together, go through all the highs and lows. You're almost living together . . . This was tough."
"Who knows?" said General Manager Bobby Beathard. "Maybe if any of us had all that he (Harmon) had on his mind, maybe we would have troubles doing our jobs."
Williams had been a disappointment throughout the preseason, gaining only 78 yards on 27 carries. He was only the third second-round draft choice the Redskins have had in the last 12 years, former coach George Allen having traded away the rest.
Last year, the Redskins swallowed their scouting pride when they cut wide receiver Carl Powell, drafted in the third round. This year, it was Williams. "I don't know what went wrong with Richard. The back we saw at Memphis State was explosive, he exploded on contact," said Beathard. "Here, he didn't show it . . . Look at his performance in training camp and it was evident he didn't belong here. He didn't earn a spot."
There was little surprise in the players released yesterday. Redskins officials said decisions were affected by injuries to wide receiver Art Monk and offensive tackle Don Laster.
Monk has a sprained knee ligament and his recovery has been so slow, team officials said, they considered placing him on injured reserve for a minimum four weeks. "I ask team doctors every week," Gibbs said, "and they can't give an answer . . . They said he improved some over the weekend."
Laster sprained his neck against Buffalo and the team fears it might be serious enough that he will have to be placed on injured reserve. When Monk and Laster become healthy, further roster changes are inevitable.
Consequently, the Redskins chose to keep five wide receivers, instead of the expected four; four running backs, instead of five; nine offensive linemen, instead of eight. Such moves gave jobs to free agent wide receiver Mark McGrath and recently acquired offensive lineman Bruce Kimball, and cost jobs of Ogrin, the defensive tackle cut for the third straight year, and Evans, who Gibbs said had earned the No. 5 running back spot.
"We've got great respect for the four guys we kept," said Don Breaux, coach of the running backs. He was referring to John Riggins, Joe Washington, Nick Giaquinto and Otis Wonsley. "Who knows," Breaux added, "maybe in a week or two, we'll have five (running backs)."
Reviewing the roster, Gibbs said, "Certainly, this isn't all stamped in concrete. We'll continue to change and to try to improve, if we can."
Translation: the Redskins' current 49 might not be the 49 on the roster next Monday night, when they open the regular season against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium.
The Redskins also will check the league waiver wire. And, if by noon today no other team has claimed players such as rookie cornerback Jones or first-year running back Evans, the Redskins could reclaim either or both by procedural recall, though they would have to drop other players if they did.
Right now, the Redskins have just three cornerbacks: starters Vernon Dean and Darrell Green and recently acquired Anthony Washington. Richie Petitbon, coach of the defense, has said he would like to have four cornerbacks.
"We're very comfortable with the three cornerbacks we have," Gibbs said. "Anthony Washington is a talented player . . . and he has got to play for us."
Gibbs said the decision to release Owen was reached Saturday night when Bob Holly, a second-year quarterback from Princeton, performed well enough in the 27-19 preseason victory at Buffalo to convince coaches he belonged as the No. 2 quarterback behind Joe Theismann. Gibbs said Holly's effort permitted the Redskins to keep rookie quarterback Babe Laufenberg, developing him slowly. It made Owen, whose greatest asset was experience, expendable.
Breaux said of the six-hour meeting held by coaches and scouts where the roster was determined, "Things were cussed and discussed."
"The only way I know how to sleep at night," Gibbs said, "is to pick the best guys, no matter what round they were drafted, no matter how much publicity they have gotten."