The Washington Redskins, remembering how miserable they felt the last time they played Chicago, have come up with something new this week for the Bears and their big, bad defense.
For the first time since he was acquired from Atlanta Aug. 26, three-time Pro Bowl guard R.C. Thielemann will start, replacing Ken Huff at right guard, according to Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense.
"There comes a time when you say, 'Hey, we want Russ Grimm and R.C. Thielemann on the field at the same time,' " Bugel said yesterday after practice at Redskin Park.
"These are two Pro Bowl guards on the field at once. I'm excited about that, I really am. I can't wait to see that."
Thielemann, who made the Pro Bowl three straight seasons from 1981 to 1983, has not been used consistently by the Redskins (1-2).
He played sporadically in a reserve role in Dallas, played all but one series against Houston when Grimm was out with back spasms, then did not play at all Sunday against Philadelphia, because, Bugel said, the offense was "moving well and we just did not want to break up the combination."
This week, the coaches decided to do just that. The Bears (3-0), who sacked quarterback Joe Theismann seven times in their 23-19 playoff victory over the Redskins at RFK Stadium last December, set a league record last season with 72 sacks. They have 12 already this year.
So it seems like the perfect time for an offensive line to make a change, Bugel said.
"We probably would be missing the boat by not having that guy start," Bugel said. "And this is as good a week as any to have him in there. I think it would be stupid to have him standing there on the sidelines with me. So how do we find out how good he is? Put him in against the Bears. I want him to play like a Pro Bowler on Sunday."
The playoff game last season changed the perception of the Redskins' offensive line. Not that they went completely from Hogs to dogs, but things weren't good that day.
Part of the problem was injuries. Veteran George Starke, who retired last month, was out with a knee injury, while Huff, who is in his third season here after eight with the Baltimore Colts, broke his ankle early in that game. Ironically, he now will be watching another Chicago game from the bench.
"It would have been nice (to start against the Bears), but we have three good guards here and I can't let it bother me," Huff, 32, said.
He is expected to play, but how much is anyone's guess. "I don't know," he said. "I just work here."
Bugel said Huff has not lost his job permanently. "He has not been demoted. This is R.C.'s week to play. R.C. has his timing down and is in great shape and ready to do something."
Thielemann, 30, was expected by some within the Redskins organization to eventually take over the starting job at right guard. How he plays in Sunday's game at 1 p.m. at Soldier Field undoubtedly will go a long way toward determining whether or not he keeps it.
Indeed, how the entire offensive line plays undoubtedly will go a long way toward determining what kind of season the Redskins have.
When the inconsistencies of the Redskins offense are discussed, you often hear about Theismann and the receivers, or about John Riggins' playing time and George Rogers' fumbles.
Has anyone yet blamed the Hogs for anything?
They haven't faced a pass rush anywhere close to Chicago's, which may explain why they have been commended time and again by Coach Joe Gibbs, et al., for the way they've played this season.
So now the best part of the offense in the early stages of the season will face the best part of a constantly improving Bears team.
"As a unit right now, we like to be in the spotlight," said center Rick Donnalley. "The Hogs. We like that. We want to be the key matchup in the game."
Perhaps the three most important players on the line for the Redskins will be Donnalley, Grimm and Thielemann. They will be the ones who face constant nose-to-nose pressure from the three Chicago middlemen: right tackle Dan Hampton (likely over center), right end Richard Dent over Grimm, and left tackle Steve McMichael over Thielemann.
"McMichael-Thielemann is a great match-up," said Bugel. It turns out they played against each other in college, when McMichael was at Texas and Thielemann at Arkansas.
"We thought we'd let them renew that old rivalry," Bugel said.
With the two guards occupied, Donnalley said he won't get much help on pass protection, which is unusual. "In a 3-4 or 4-3, I can rely on a guard setting and helping me," Donnalley said. "Here, it's one on one for me. One of the keys to their defense is isolating the center by putting an all-pro (Hampton) on him and saying, 'Let's see if he can block.' "
Chicago's defense is called a "dubs" defense because the Bears double-up on outside linebackers on one side or another. They also stack all-pro middle linebacker Mike Singletary behind Hampton to apply more pressure. At times, it can be downright frightening.
"They'll get five one-on-one battles going where the defensive guy can grab and slap and try to run around you," said right tackle Mark May. "They've got the advantage and figure that one out of the five should get to the quarterback sooner or later. It's our job to stop all of them."
Coach Joe Gibbs said tests on wide receiver Calvin Muhammad, who has diabetes, did not find any problems with the amount of insulin he is taking. But, Gibbs said, team doctors will be "tracing" his insulin intake over a "few weeks" to make sure it is the right amount.