With their special teams in a confused funk, the Washington Redskins reacted by making several roster changes yesterday, including the release of veterans Pete Cronan and Todd Liebenstein.
In their place, the Redskins signed two rookies they hope will become important special teams players -- running back Reggie Branch, a special teams whiz from East Carolina cut by the Redskins this summer, and linebacker Joe Krakoski, a sixth-round 1985 draftee from the University of Washington cut in preseason by Houston. Krakoski's father, Joe, played defensive back for the 1961 Redskins and 1963-66 Oakland Raiders.
"I'm not trying to send any messages," Coach Joe Gibbs said of the roster deletions. "I'm not making moves just to make moves. Some coaches make moves just to try to shake things up. I'm not doing that."
He added, "Whether this will help us now, we'll have to wait and see. We will continue to evaluate everything until we get it right."
However, with the kickoff coverage team in drastic need of help, special teams coach Wayne Sevier was certain to point out, "Because of what happened with Pete and Todd, if we had some guys who weren't producing (on special teams), maybe they better wake up."
As expected, the team also signed former Cleveland punter Steve Cox to replace Jeff Hayes, who was placed on injured reserve for a minimum of four weeks with a thigh injury.
Besides punting, Cox has kicked two of the longest field goals in league history -- from 60 and 57 yards -- and Gibbs said if the Redskins needed a field goal "from 55 yards" or longer, he might use Cox instead of Mark Moseley.
However, Gibbs wanted to make certain that no waves of controversy start rolling toward Moseley, whose longest NFL field goal was from 54 yards in 1977.
"If Mark Moseley can conceivably make it," Gibbs said, "he'll get the shot. He's the guy kicking for us."
Cox will handle kickoffs for the Redskins, and Gibbs said that might be his greatest strength. The main criticism of Cox's punting is that he takes too long. He has had five punts blocked in his four-year career.
"I was real concerned about that. That was the reservation I had about him," Sevier said. He added that he was impressed with Cox's timing yesterday, though, and he will continue to work on his speed.
Meanwhile, guard R.C. Thielemann will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee today. Trainer Bubba Tyer said once the severity of the injury is determined, the team will decide whether to place him on injured reserve for at least four weeks.
General Manager Bobby Beathard said that if Thielemann is placed on injured reserve, it's likely a cornerback will be signed in his place. A possible candidate is Kevin Williams, another potential special teams addition who was cut by the Redskins this summer.
Tyer said Thielemann will be sidelined for a minimum of two weeks. If the predicted recuperation period is less than four weeks, the Redskins might keep Thielemann on the active 45-man roster and cut another player. That would make room for Williams or another cornerback who might help out on special teams.
Several veterans expressed surprise and displeasure over the release of Cronan, 30. Said linebacker Neal Olkewicz, the team's new player representative, "I guess I'm surprised and angered. I like to think that we're all in this together, win or lose."
Linebacker Rich Milot added, "When you're winning, it's a 'family.' When you're losing, it's a different story. Who knows, maybe this is understandable. When you're losing, you look for answers."
It seems that Cronan's undoing was that his deep snaps on punts (a role he began this season) were inadequate. He bounced several snaps against the Bears. Now, the role of deep-snapper will go to recently acquired linebacker Chris Keating.
Liebenstein, the defensive end who started in the Super Bowl victory over Miami in January 1983, was a simple victim of the numbers game, of the emergence of starting end Charles Mann and of the fact that he didn't play on any of the special teams.
"(The cuts) were for two different reasons," Gibbs said. "Everybody knows how we feel about Pete. He's done everything we've ever asked of him. I thought he'd be able to jump in there on deep snaps. (But) instead of getting steadily better (on deep snaps), Pete regressed.
"(With Liebenstein) I came to the conclusion that we couldn't have a seventh defensive lineman (who doesn't play on special teams) and have the troubles we're having with the special teams."
As always, Cronan, in his ninth year, was philosophical. "In the past, coaches used me as an example, a positive example," he said. "Hopefully, they're using me as an example now to motivate some people. And you know what, I hope it does motivate some people."
Cronan wasn't even expected to make the roster this season. In fact, Gibbs had asked him not to come back. He came, anyway. "I like walking through the Valley of Death," Cronan said. "I learned something about myself: you're never out of it.
"But I guess this is a very graphic example of the finite side of this business."
Gibbs met with team owner Jack Kent Cooke on Monday to discuss the state of the team. Cooke said yesterday that the meeting was standard. Asked yesterday about the meeting, Gibbs spent five minutes praising Cooke's non-interference type of ownership.
"Once we get into the season," Gibbs said, "he can't help, Bobby can't help. It's mine. I'm either gonna do it or I'm not. Sometimes in sports, you don't get that luxury (from owners)."