Everything became so much clearer yesterday at Redskin Park.
Several rookies, noticing rival veterans were missing after the Washington Redskins cut their roster to 50 players Tuesday, walked and talked with confidence.
"It was either me or him," rookie defensive tackle Dean Hamel said of Perry Brooks. "I feel sorry for him, but I feel real good for me. I'm not really that worried now."
Coaches began to plan not for summer's exhibitions but for autumn's real games. They have started to think Dallas.
"Without (returner) Mike Nelms, you can pencil in Gary Clark to open on punt returns against Dallas and Michael Morton and Keith Griffin to take kickoffs," said special teams coach Wayne Sevier.
And, now that the Redskins are so close to reaching their final 45-player roster (they must do that Monday), it's becoming easier to see which last-minute decisions must be made.
It is likely that offensive tackle Mike McClearn, who dislocated fingers on both hands during preseason practice, will be placed on injured reserve when guard R.C. Thielemann is actived.
Thielemann, acquired Monday from Atlanta in a trade for wide receiver Charlie Brown, is expected to play "a couple series" at Tampa Bay Friday (8 p.m., WTTG-TV-5), said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach for the offense.
McClearn likely would be placed on injured reserve Friday by 4 p.m. However, Coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins will "go to the last second" before deciding if they will play Thielemann, who is practicing for the first time after a lengthy holdout with the Falcons.
If they make that change, the Redskins still would be left with 50 players. The offensive line would seem to be set with the five starters, plus Thielemann, tackle Dan McQuaid and rookie Raleigh McKenzie, who has been moved to center.
The most-asked question along the practice field sideline involves the quarterbacks: Do you keep two or three?
Babe Laufenberg, who still appears to be No. 3 behind Jay Schroeder despite a 200-yard, two-touchdown performance against New England, said he has not been told if he will play in Tampa, or, for that matter, if he will be with the Redskins next week.
If the Redskins keep three quarterbacks, which would be the safe decision, they would likely release (or trade or place on injured reserve) one receiver, probably rookie Joe Phillips, and either one of the five remaining running backs or one of the four tight ends.
Put running backs under the microscope. John Riggins, George Rogers and Keith Griffin. You keep them. The other two are Otis Wonsley, the leading hitter on last year's special teams, and Morton.
Wonsley is expected to make the team for a fifth season, but, surprisingly, has not played well on special teams.
"What he's done, he has not done well," Sevier said yesterday when asked about Wonsley, who also has not played as much as usual due to experimentation with rookies.
"He hasn't played up to his ability, and I'm concerned about it," Sevier added.
Morton, signed off waivers from Tampa Bay earlier this month, believes the versatility that made Nelms expendable this week may be tested again next week.
"It will probably come down to me and Otis," he said. "It depends who they need, a kick returner and running running back like me, or a good special teams player and blocker who knows the system better, like Otis."
Gibbs won't say. "I just think Morton's one of the 50."
On defense, all indications are the Redskins will waive or move one lineman, one linebacker and one defensive back.
The battle for survival on the line apparently is between ends Todd Liebenstein and Steve Hamilton, although tackle Tom Beasley has missed most of the preseason with an injured toe and says he isn't sure what to expect.
Hamel, a 12th-round draft choice from Tulsa who has played defense for just one year, seems to have made the team.
"He's our type of guy," said defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson.
Hamel intensified his rivalry with Brooks when he talked about it on a radio show from training camp.
"I did this radio show (on WMAL) and said I thought if I was going to make the team, Perry would be one of the guys whose job I would be after," he said.
"Well, when he came into camp, he told me I shouldn't be talking about veterans on the radio. We got along all right later, but I couldn't believe he really listened."
Hamel said he never felt right as an offensive lineman. "I'm an attacker. I jumped offsides a lot."
When the Redskins told him they drafted him, Hamel's first question was: "What as?"
"I didn't want to play offensive line any more."
As for defensive line, he said he doesn't have "great technique yet," adding, "but I think Torgy thinks I have talent."
He has played on all four kicking teams, as well. "That's a real bonus," said Torgeson.
At linebacker, the final position may turn into a tug-of-war between Pete Cronan and Stuart Anderson, two well-liked special teams players.
With five days to go, Cronan, who was told by Gibbs last spring his chances didn't look particularly bright, apparently now is considered to have a very good shot to make the team.
Cronan is snapping on punts, extra points and field goal attempts, although McQuaid worked as the snapper at practice yesterday.
The final cut probably will have to come from among eight defensive backs. The coaches consider a good showing at Tampa essential for the chances of cornerback Tory Nixon, the Redskins' top draft pick, who has been behind the others ever since missing two weeks in a contract holdout.
Most of those standing near the edge of unemployment this week don't bear the big names of a George Starke or Nelms or Brooks. But they lasted through more of the 1985 season.