Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs was talking the other day about a "different kind of pressure," the type you face when, for the first time in three years, you drive up to training camp in Carlisle, Pa., without having been to the Super Bowl six months earlier.
"People in our division probably are looking at us and saying 'Hey, these guys probably are slipping some, they're going to be down. Now's our chance to take over,' " Gibbs said.
"That's the challenge for us. It's a different kind of pressure, a different kind of experience. After four years, I'm facing some things for the first time that have happened with me and the players. We've just moved to a different level now. But every year, something's different."
This year, it seems, a lot is. League champions when they opened camp in 1983, conference champions when they arrived in 1984, the Redskins begin their 1985 season Thursday in Carlisle as division champs, and nothing more.
In all, 116 players are expected at the Redskins' Dickinson College training facility 110 miles north of Washington, although only rookies and some veterans have to show up Thursday. The team's first practice is 9 a.m. Friday at Biddle Field; a rookie scrimmage is scheduled against the New England Patriots' rookies in Foxboro, Mass., July 27, the same day all veterans must report by 6 p.m. in Carlisle.
They arrive as the oldest team in the league in 1984, a team that perhaps should line up for calisthenics not in rows, but in one big question mark.
Is it any wonder Gibbs, when explaining why he is excited to begin this training camp, said, "Probably because there will be more things happening"?
At the National Football League meetings last March in Phoenix, Gibbs was standing with Seattle Coach Chuck Knox. Someone came over and patted Knox on the back.
"Hey, great job," they said to Knox.
Retelling the story, Gibbs started to laugh.
"The first thing they say to me is, 'What happened?' "
An 11-5 playoff team certainly does not require an overhaul, yet, as Gibbs noted, "There are so many guys in pivotal situations where they could change the whole complexion of the team."
How about running back George Rogers? After a rude awakening on the Redskin Park treadmill in May, he stayed in town and worked out with strength coach Dan Riley until two weeks ago.
Gibbs said Rogers' cardiovascular conditioning had been "way off." Now, he says, his new star "came a long way."
Rogers agrees. "I think I do better when I'm up there," he said by phone from Columbia, S.C.
Rogers' competition with John Riggins, who has begun to work out "real hard" with weights, Gibbs said, may well be the battle of the summer. Neither man acknowledges a contest, but Gibbs has ruled out a two-back offense because they both are the same type of runner.
Both, of course, are expected to make the roster, which was cut by four to 45 men at a recent league meeting.
That's not the case, however, for kickers Mark Moseley, 37, and Tony Zendejas, 25. Now that the Redskins have signed Zendejas from the U.S. Football League and paid him an estimated six-figure signing bonus, they have handed Moseley the fight of his football life.
"There's going to be 1,000 kicks," Gibbs said, adding that age "is a factor, but it's weighed in there with 'Can a guy still perform?' "
There are other questions. With Jim Hart gone, who becomes the No. 2 quarterback, Jay Schroeder or Babe Laufenberg? Gibbs says it's time to find out.
"We're really going to start working with them to see if one is the guy who'll lead us when Joe (Theismann) stops playing," he said, adding that he won't rule out picking up someone else.
How about the offensive line, reduced to patchwork in the playoff loss to Chicago? When will center Jeff Bostic return after injuring his right knee last year? If it's not until October, who plays where?
What about two-time all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown? He skipped minicamp because he wanted assurances he could have his starting job back. Is he content once again?
Can strong safety Tony Peters, who missed eight games with a pulled stomach muscle last year, regain his Pro Bowl form of three years ago?
And, if so, will Gibbs move Ken Coffey -- Peters' replacement and someone who is "much more likely to play free safety" than cornerback Vernon Dean, according to Gibbs -- to free safety now that disgruntled veteran Mark Murphy has been waived?
And, while we're in the secondary, what about the two rookies, defensive back Tory Nixon and free safety/jack-of-all-trades Raphel Cherry? Will the Redskins' top two draft picks melt in a rain of passes. Or steal someone's job?
But first, when will they sign? Gibbs says having unsigned players makes him "nervous." All but three of the 12 draft picks remain unsigned, as do defensive tackles Dave Butz and Tom Beasley, and Moseley and Riggins.
As for reserve wide receiver Mark McGrath, no one is certain. His agent, Bob Bestwick, sent a letter to Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard saying, "Enclosed is Mark's signed contract."
It wasn't there.
Beathard plans to call Bestwick to find out where it is.
Gibbs laughed off Dallas Coach Tom Landry's prediction that the Redskins will win the NFC East. "I think that was fairly obvious," he said. "We open with them (Monday, Sept. 9, in Dallas) so that was a natural. We're the first ones they play" . . . Gibbs won't make predictions himself. He says he is "high" on the St. Louis Cardinals, but also likes the chances of the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas. Did he leave out anyone?