For the third straight year, Washington Redskins linebacker Monte Coleman's body of granite has suffered an injury that has reduced part of his season to rubble.
Yesterday, the Redskins placed Coleman on the injured reserve list for a minimum of four weeks, after his deep thigh bruise, suffered in the final preseason game at Buffalo Aug. 27, did not heal with time. As of yesterday, the Redskins had not replaced Coleman on the 49-man active roster.
"I talked to Monte this morning and I've talked to him over the past two or three days," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "The doctors changed their minds on Tuesday and felt it would be three or four weeks until he would be ready."
Consequently, the Redskins made the move they had been pondering, but hoping they wouldn't have to make. At the earliest, Coleman, who does not speak to the press, will not be eligible to return to the team until the seventh game of the season, against Green Bay Oct. 17.
Mel Kaufman, who usually alternates with Coleman at left linebacker (Coleman plays in passing situations, Kaufman against the run), will continue to play full-time in Coleman's absence, a task he craves.
"We're a little thin there (at left linebacker) right now," said Larry Peccatiello, defensive coordinator, whose primary responsibility is the linebackers. "We would like to pick up another linebacker, but we won't rush into anything . . . We've got confidence in Stuart Anderson and Pete Cronan."
They are the two players behind Kaufman, but both have limitations in filling such a role.
Anderson is a novice linebacker, a game, gutty second-year player who was primarily a defensive lineman at the University of Virginia. Cronan, a sixth-year player who is captain of the Redskins' special teams, is best suited for playing middle linebacker.
Placing Coleman on injured reserve also places the Redskins in a somewhat uneasy paperwork position: already, wide receiver Art Monk (knee injury) and offensive lineman Don Laster (neck injury), two players of substantive value, have been placed on injured reserve.
Under league rules, only three players placed on injured reserve with a "major" injury after the final 49-man cutdown (a category that includes Monk, Laster and Coleman) can be recalled by a team without having to clear league waivers first.
Already, the Redskins have two players who they want to recall when healthy (Monk and Coleman) and one they might want to recall (Laster). The absence of major injury to the offensive line and the acquisition of capable veteran guards Ken Huff and Roy Simmons make it less important that Laster rejoin the team.
Fourteen weeks remain in the season. It's very early for a team to be in this position. Another injury that might force a fourth key player on injured reserve could place the Redskins in a position of possibly having to keep a player who could contribute off the roster for the entire season. Or, if they try to reclaim him, the Redskins could risk losing him to waivers first.
"That's always a concern," said General Manager Bobby Beathard. "But this thing happens to a lot of teams . . . You get to the point where you have to keep someone on I.R. (injured reserve) all year or you lose him to someone else (by waivers). Certainly, this is not yet a crisis."
It is something, though, to make Redskins cross their fingers to keep the injury bugaboo far away.
Coleman, whose 6-foot-2, 230-pound physique seems the model of sturdiness, has not played in either regular-season game. In 1981, Coleman suffered a fractured shoulder in the second week of the season and missed four games. He returned to finish strongly that year.
Before the third game of the year in 1982, Coleman, 25, separated his shoulder. He missed only one game, but never fully recovered.
Amid annual rumors that he will retire, offensive right tackle George Starke says he would like to play two or three more seasons after this year. Starke, 35, is in the final year of his contract, earning approximately $165,000 salary this year.
"It's really just a matter of if I want to keep playing, and right now I do," said Starke, the "Head Hog" who is now in his 12th NFL season. "I feel right now that I'm at a peak. Really, I've never had a bad year.
"For some strange reason," said Starke, never short on self-confidence, "I feel I'm as strong and as quick as I've ever been and I'm 35."
Beathard said he has received a letter from Starke's representative to discuss a possible new contract for Starke. "We plan on having George around for a few more years," Beathard said.
"When we got here three years ago," said Joe Bugel, who coaches the offensive line, "a lot of the (Redskins) veterans left. George stayed. He's improved 20 percent each year. I think he's one of the best right tackles in the NFC."