Rookies and free agents step gingerly at the Washington Redskins' training camp. Many fear that doom will intercept their dream.
Take the case of wide receiver Curtland Thomas, drafted in the 12th round from Missouri. He was picked 335th in a 336-man draft. "If the Redskins had won the Super Bowl," he said, "I might have been the last."
He was paged into the team's office today, the subject of an interview. He arrived quickly and with the look of panic. Then he saw a television camera. He exhaled relief. "I thought you were going to tell me I was cut," he said. "I didn't think I was doing that bad."
Saturday is a judgment day for Thomas and so many others here. That's when the Redskins' rookies and free agents and a few selected veterans will scrimmage the New York Jets at 1 p.m. at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. "We'll take a long look," Coach Joe Gibbs said.
"There really is no room for another wide receiver on this team," said Thomas, a remote possibility to make the roster. "I know I have to impress coaches fast. If I don't do it by Saturday, the veterans will be here and I will have missed my chance."
The format of the scrimmage will include seven-on-seven drills, while the linemen will duel one-on-one at the same time. The teams will move into 12-play drives, starting from the offense's 30-yard line, then the 40, midfield and the defense's 40. There will be no kicking.
As always, a few players have sparkled in the Carlisle sun. Coaches have been impressed with the durability of fullback Don Goodman, a muscular 5-foot-11, 215-pound rookie free agent from the University of Cincinnati; they've also been impressed with the soft hands of running back Keith Griffin, a 10th-round pick from Miami who appears to be an adept receiver from the backfield. They've noticed the blocking strength of tight end Anthony Jones, drafted in the 11th round from Wichita State. Goodman, 25, an ex-marine, is a long shot. Griffin and Jones hold steady, with better chances.
Coaches have also been impressed with the resurgence tight end Mike Williams, a Redskins memory-tester. In the 1982 Super Bowl-winning season, he began the season as one of the starting tight ends. He was the motion H-back and Don Warren was the blocking tight end.
Then came Williams' injuries. In the season opener, against the Eagles, Williams was knocked unconscious by a free safety. In the sixth game that year, against the Giants at RFK Stadium, his cleats caught in the snow and mud. He tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. End of season.
It took him more than a year to recover. "It was frustrating, going from being a starter to that," he recalled. At last, he was restored to the roster in the eighth week last season. He performed only on special teams and in short-yardage situations. Now, at 24, he doesn't want to talk football in the past tense.
"I want to start," he said. Likely, the Redskins will retain four tight ends. Warren, Clint Didier and Rick Walker seem set. It appears will be a choice between Williams and rookie Jones. "Saturday (against the Jets) is real important for me to prove to the coaches that I can do the job," Williams said.
The knee is fine now, he said. Never, it seems, though, is his right knee perfect. When he dived for a ball this week, his knee hit a rock; he didn't practice today.
The coaches are impressed with defensive end Steve Hamilton, the Redskins' second pick in the second round. Defensive tackle Bob Slater, the first second-round pick, has been getting the headlines because of his holdout and, in practice, he's been getting to the quarterback, too.
Quietly, Hamilton has simply been getting better. "I've never been awed by publicity," he said. "I'm not what you would call a glamor, paperboy type."
He is 6-4, 253 pounds, the same height as Slater, just 12 pounds lighter. At East Carolina last year, Hamilton's season was wrecked by ankle injuries. "The ankle's fine now," he said.
While most of the rookies await Saturday, Slater awaits Monday, when the veterans will participate and thereby give practice greater credibility. "It's one thing for us to be doing good against each other," he said, speaking for rookies and free agents. "It's another thing for us to play against the veterans, the guys who have proven themselves."
He feels he has caught up for the time lost due to the 3 1/2-day holdout. Hamilton said he and Slater watched a Clint Eastwood movie on television Thursday night, youngsters bonding together to pass away the dead time in an unfamiliar town. "Bob's from Oklahoma," Hamilton said. "I'm from upstate New York. So we talked about how things are different here than we are used to."
Slater has other concerns. "Been writing a lot of letters to my girlfriend. Well, I guess I can call her my fiance now. We're getting married Feb. 9." That's three weeks after the Super Bowl (Jan. 20), it was noted. "That's why we arranged it for then," he said, smiling.
Pete Cronan, the special teams captain, has agreed to a contract, meaning that all draft picks and returning veterans are signed . . . Gibbs said several veterans will play Saturday: quarterbacks Babe Laufenberg and Bob Holly; wide receiver Mark McGrath; running back Reggie Evans and cornerbacks Brian Carpenter and Anthony Washington . . . All veterans are due here Sunday at 7 p.m. They will join the rookies/free agents in a second scrimmage against the Jets July 28 at 1 p.m. at Lafayette . . . The Redskins signed rookie wide receiver Brian Allen, from the University of Idaho. He'd been cut in Canada.