All this talk about being a team in transition is beginning to wear on the Washington Redskins.
Yes, there have been some comings and goings since we last left them in the clutches of the Chicago Bears last December.
Several familiar names -- among them Charlie Brown, George Starke, Mark Murphy, Joe Washington, Jim Hart, Ken Coffey and Jeff Bostic -- will not be around when the season begins Sept. 9 at Dallas.
Yes, George Rogers now lives here. He was in New Orleans a year ago. And Raphel Cherry and Barry Wilburn are moving in. They were in college last year -- in Hawaii and Mississippi, respectively.
But is this really a changed team? Last season the oldest club in the National Football League and not getting any younger this year, the Redskins may well start with all but two of their late-season 1984 starters, replacing only an injured Coffey at strong safety with Tony Peters and Brown with Calvin Muhammad at wide receiver.
Change begets wonderment while age drags along reliability. Don't even ask which Coach Joe Gibbs prefers. He invited John Riggins, problems and all, back for another year, didn't he?
The Redskins return in 1985 somewhat like comfortable old shoes. So they're worn a little. They fit. They do the job. And, eventually, they always seem to get you where you want to go.
"I get the feeling we're talking about a dominant team, the kind when we went to the Super Bowl in 1982 and 1983," said running back Riggins, who, at 36, returns for his 14th -- and possibly last -- season.
"The type of team that goes out and wears another one down with hard-nosed, tough football, and wins quite a few more than they lose."
Turn on the VCR. Pop in the tape. Joe Theismann hands off to Riggins. Theismann goes deep to Art Monk. Haven't we seen this somewhere before? Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, Neal Olkewicz, the Hogs. Hail, hail, the gang's (almost) all here . . .
When Theismann, now almost 36 and entering his 12th NFL season, was asked about leading a team in transition, he scoffed and said, like a good Redskin, that the Dallas Cowboys are the ones doing the changing.
"Last year was our transition year," he said. "Everyone talks about our old offensive line. Our old offensive linemen were puppies in 1982 . . . These guys are only 26-27 years old now. They still have a good three or four years left in them."
This may be true, but one (Bostic) has a bad knee and will miss at least the first six games of the season, while depth was such a problem that the Redskins were forced to make two trades in the last week to obtain second-year tackle Dan McQuaid from the Los Angeles Rams and three-time Pro Bowl guard R.C. Thielemann from the Atlanta Falcons.
You can have one of the top three quarterbacks in the game, two churning, look-alike runners each capable of gaining 1,000 yards, and one of the best group of receivers in pro football (with former Los Angeles Raider Malcolm Barnwell taking Brown's place), but if the Hogs aren't the Hogs, you've got trouble.
If Thielemann takes to the Redskins' system as quickly as they hope (he most likely will be platooned with Russ Grimm and Ken Huff), and if McQuaid is stronger than he looks (he is 6 feet 7 but weighs "a thin 260," Gibbs said), the line will be stronger than a year ago. And that's important; as the Hogs go, so go the Redskins, a team that averaged 26.6 points per game last season, third in the league.
But can they block out injuries? Said right tackle Mark May of last year: "Injuries were a major distraction for us."
Injuries, and defenses that have wised up to the ways of the Hogs. May said the Redskins no longer see "vanilla defenses." They're mostly Rocky Road now.
"I'd like to say that this year, our goal is allowing only 20 sacks, but I don't think that's realistic with the NFL trend that seems to have developed toward pressuring the quarterback and bringing a lot of blitzes," said center Rick Donnalley, Bostic's replacement.
Last year, the Hogs allowed 48 sacks for 341 lost yards. This summer, they have emphasized one-on-one, no-help blocking to try to keep Theismann safe.
"We have a lot of revenge and grudge matches this year," said Donnalley, "starting with Dallas."
It sounds like a difficult beginning, but it's what the Redskins wanted, to play at Dallas early in the year and play the Cowboys at home later in the season (Nov. 10).
"I think this is a team that's going to do something great," Riggins said by way of explanation why he came back. "There's that feeling like this is going to be more than just another Redskin team, going to maybe be one of the better Redskin teams."
If it becomes that, the Riggo-Rogers running attack may deserve quite a bit of the credit. Can there be any doubt Riggins still is the heart of this team after he entered the game and, merely by his presence, revived a moribund Redskin offense against New England this preseason?
Theismann expects Riggins to click at his usual 1,000-yard pace.
"John and I are like riding a bicycle," he said. "You're off it for a year but when you get back on, it feels exactly like it did. He's John. It's great to have him back here."
Riggins thinks it's great to have Rogers back here with him. Rogers is nine years younger, but already has gained 4,267 yards in four NFL seasons. He doesn't mind that he probably won't start, or that he will have to share time, something he already has experience in.
In fact, Rogers is just happy to be here, despite the fact he was unable to break loose for a long gain through much of preseason.
"I hope he's as enthusiastic in the middle of the Dallas game as he is now," running backs coach Don Breaux said during training camp.
The Redskins have been experimenting with a two-back offense, but Rogers and Riggins will not play in it together. "They are both the same type of back," said Gibbs. "Runners, big and strong. They shouldn't block, and, in the two-back, one has to block. So we'll use someone else there."
In the preseason, the Redskins showed signs of a masterful deep passing game, led by Monk and Muhammad. The addition of Barnwell, known for running the possession-type routes Fred Biletnikoff used to master with the Raiders, and Gary Clark, formerly of the U.S. Football League, gives the Redskins four receivers that remind coach Charley Taylor of, well, Charley Taylor. Don't expect Monk to catch another 106 passes with this kind of competition.
Two other "utility" players buff any remaining rough edges on offense. They are second-year man Keith Griffin, the third-down back and "new" Joe Washington, and three-year veteran Clint Didier, who has gotten over mononucleosis to return to block and catch as the Redskins' H-back (man-in-motion).
The defensive line may be good enough to repeat its success against the run (second in the league), but depth is a problem now that 1984 top draft pick Bob Slater sits out with a knee injury for the second year in a row.
There has been little transition on the line, where holdout veteran Butz is playing himself into shape, and none among the linebackers, where Olkewicz led the team in tackles again in 1984 (149) despite leaving the game on most passing downs.
The secondary is something else. The starters should sound familiar -- Darrell Green, Vernon Dean, Curtis Jordan and Peters. The reserves may not. At least two rookies probably will make this defense -- Cherry and Wilburn -- and they may not sit long. It's likely they will be nickel backs this season, and Cherry may push Jordan for his starting free safety spot before long.
"He has 23-year-old legs," said Jordan. "Mine are 31. I know how old I am, but I didn't realize how old we had gotten as a team over the years."
Playing rookies has its perils, the Redskins know, especially in a position that rewards instinct as much, if not more, than talent. However, one veteran may be the cornerstone here, and he is Peters.
If he returns to 1982 form, the secondary probably will improve on the 235.8 yards per game it yielded in the air, third-worst in the league. But if all those hits have slowed him a step or so, Peters' ability to defend against the pass, which has been questioned, may come up again.
The Redskins' prized special teams have been anything but prized and special in preseason, and this is perhaps the biggest concern of Gibbs now that the offensive line has been filled in. The league's new rule that restricts rosters to 45 players robs Gibbs of the four extra men he loves to play on kicks and returns. Witness Mike Nelms. The three-time Pro Bowl kick returner became a preseason casualty because he couldn't play another position.
The players doing the kicking took different paths to this regular season. Punter Jeff Hayes, who kicked 73 times last year and had no punt returned more than 14 yards, had little competition in preseason and returns with the Redskins' complete blessing.
After the most trying competition of his football career, Mark Moseley does, too. Gibbs hopes the strong, steady 47-yard field goal that brought the house down (burying Tony Zendejas in the rubble) against New England is the rule this season, not the exception. Moseley is 37, the second-oldest kicker in the NFL.
"How long Mark can kick, I don't know," Gibbs said. "How long John Riggins can run with the ball, I don't know. But as long as they're the best, we will keep them on our roster."