It's not every NFL team that calls in a stockbroker, bookkeeper and finance student to save its special teams -- and perhaps its season.
When the Washington Redskins placed linebacker Monte Coleman on injured reserve nearly two weeks ago, they found linebacker Chris Keating selling stocks in Boston.
When punter Jeff Hayes went on injured reserve this week, they pulled kicker Steve Cox out of an office in Jonesboro, Ark., where he owns and manages a few Holiday Inns.
And when they put guard R.C. Thielemann on injured reserve later in the week, they left a message with cornerback Kevin Williams' roommate at Iowa State. Williams was in a finance class and got back hours later.
At first, he thought the message was a joke.
Will the butcher, baker and candlestick maker fly in next week for tryouts if things get any worse for the 1-3 Redskins?
In the past 12 days, five new players have joined the Redskins: these three, plus running back Reggie Branch and linebacker Joe Krakoski. That's 11 percent of the 45-man roster, a sizable chunk for less than two weeks.
"Normally, you don't like making that many moves," Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday on a dreary day at Redskin Park.
"But these were necessitated by lost production in some spots . . . We addressed that by saying we had to make a change. You have to step in and say, 'Get somebody else to do it.' "
But, for a team already wondering if its chemistry is creating some kind of strange reaction, is this too many new people to assimilate at one time?
"It'd be easy to say yes," said veteran tight end Rick Walker. "However, for the most part, our starting 22 are pretty much intact from last year. It's the second 22 we're talking about. It would be different if we were putting new starters on the field on offense and defense."
Late yesterday afternoon, as the Redskins worked overtime on their kickoff coverage (average opponent's kickoff return: 37.3 yards), the impact of these new players was apparent. There was Cox, who, with Mark Moseley, gives the Redskins the world's last two straight-on kickers. Cox, of course, was kicking off.
Branch, Williams and Krakoski were along the line, and Keating was standing behind them, watching, as one of several coverage backups.
Walker is correct in one sense: none is starting on offense or defense. But, could it be that they are actually more important doing what they're doing right now?
When the Redskins play St. Louis (3-1) Monday at 9 p.m. at RFK, two things are crucial: the return of the Redskins' passing game and the return of their special teams. And who has been assigned to save the day? People who sound like they'd be better off balancing the team budget, free agents and players from places like Buffalo and Cleveland.
"My job is not running the ball. My job is to play special teams," said Branch, a highly regarded free agent from East Carolina who was cut by the Redskins in August.
Instead of going home, Branch decided to move in with defensive end Steve Hamilton, an old college friend, "to stay around the atmosphere here," he said. Gibbs had told him how much the Redskins liked him, so he figured he might wait around a while before packing it in.
So now, in one tumultuous week, Branch has gone from being an ex-football player to something called "the kill man."
That used to be veteran Otis Wonsley's job on kickoff coverage. As Branch describes it, "The kill man goes straight to the ball. Period."
He lines up on the outside and is instructed to bust an opponent's blocking wedge, sort of the way a cue ball begins a game of pool.
Wonsley, meanwhile, has been moved down the line. A demotion? Said special teams coach Wayne Sevier: "A realignment."
Branch played the role in preseason and did well. "This is no different to me," he said. "I like it. It's kill or be killed."
Perhaps there is another reason to bring in new players. Branch left the Redskins when they were winning, with a 3-0 preseason record. He has returned to find losing, lots of losing.
"It wasn't as alive as it was during preseason," he said of the team's attitude. "It doesn't seem to be the same Redskin team as when I left."
He said he couldn't put his finger on what was wrong, but he knows the cure. "We'll come back and start winning again," he said. "That's all we need."
Cox has seen teams out of sync before. "I was in Cleveland for four years," he said.
This, he said, is different. "There's a pretty simple problem with a pretty simple solution," he said.
His adjustments to a new team are minimal as an individual performer. But he believes some of the other new players may find it more difficult to adjust to the Washington system, something that sounds all too familiar in the case of receivers Calvin Muhammad and Malcolm Barnwell.
"It's hard to do," Cox said. "Any player who is released or traded or picked up . . . it is a hassle. For me, I've been out four or five weeks. I have to go out and perform as if I haven't been off, as if I haven't changed teams."
Keating, who used to play for Buffalo, doesn't believe he or the other newest Redskins need any excuses at all.
"I've been here a week. They teach you. They work with you. It's not much of a problem," he said.
"People who mention chemistry . . . that's just another out somebody is looking for."