Nobody laughed the day they saw the Washington Redskins put a tight end in the backfield.
There wasn't the mass hysteria of a Refrigerator raid.
There were no calls from David Letterman for Clint Didier or Don Warren.
But, in Washington, it will do until the day Joe Jacoby or Dave Butz decides to thunder into motion and catch a pass.
For players from the "me generation," why not the I formation?
In the third week of the NFL season against Philadelphia, then against Chicago and Atlanta, the Redskins shifted from their traditional one-back offense to the I, with a tight end, not another running back, blocking for the deep back.
It worked, especially against Atlanta in last Sunday's 44-10 Washington victory, when the Redskins rushed for 307 yards, a good chunk of it out of the I.
It worked so well, in fact, that some of the Redskins wouldn't mind hearing it called in the huddle more often.
"I think I run a little bit better out of the I," said George Rogers, who gained 124 yards against the Falcons.
"It could work here, because we've got the personnel to do it," said Keith Griffin, who gained 164 yards last Sunday. "It would work here."
"You get a perspective of the whole defense back there," said tight end Anthony Jones, one of the blocking backs. "And you don't have to hold your block as long when you come out of the backfield as when you are on the line, waiting for the back to come through."
Although running backs coach Don Breaux says the Redskins run an I-formation offense when they use just one back, there are some differences between the two formations.
For one, the running back stands deeper. In the one-back formation, the running back is about five yards behind center. In the I, he stands six or seven yards deep, all the better to watch holes develop. For a quick back such as Rogers, this is an advantage.
Instead of standing on the line, the tight end gets a running start toward his blocking target, either a defensive end or linebacker. And he doesn't have to fight that player as long as he would on the line, which is a big plus for the offense.
The I also catches a defense by surprise when the Redskins use it.
"Our production with it has been good because we've been able to stay in our same packages and just rotate whoever we wanted in the backfield at the I position," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "And it doesn't let the defense see that, obviously, two backs are coming into the game."
The Redskins' I formation has its roots in the springtime trade for Rogers, the Chicago Bears' defense and the versatility of Washington's tight ends.
Rogers has run out of the I all his life.
"In New Orleans, in college, in high school," he said.
He likes it, he says, "because you've got that lead blocker in front of you."
On Rogers' opening 35-yard run against Atlanta, Warren led the way.
"I like it," said Warren. "It's fun. It's a good change-up for us."
Perhaps the biggest difference in the Redskins' running backs from last season to this is their stance. Before, John Riggins always leaned into a three-point stance, with one hand on the ground.
When Rogers showed up this summer, he wanted to do what he has done for years -- stand up, with his hands on his thighs. Riggins took one look at that and decided to do the same thing.
"John said, 'Hey, with my back, I might as well stay up,' " Breaux said.
The Redskins have used the I formation more against the Chicago-style "Dubs" defense (Atlanta plays it, too, just not as well) than against any other defense. They like its unpredictability; they like the options it gives them.
In the "Dubs," a 4-3 alignment with two linebackers on one side, Chicago usually has eight defenders keying on the running game, all lined up within the ends, Breaux said.
"The I allows us to hit left or right and allows our other offensive personnel to spread out," he said.
"We're not saying we have the answer," he added, "and whether we continue to use this or not, I don't know."
It doesn't appear likely a running back will move to the blocking back position if the Redskins continue to use the I.
"Tight ends always block on defensive ends," said Otis Wonsley, always the logical choice for blocking back. They don't want to see a running back block on a defensive end all day. Pound for pound, it's not a good idea."
Griffin, at 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, would be too small. And Gibbs has said many times that he doesn't like the idea of Rogers blocking for Riggins, or Riggins blocking for Rogers.
Thus, a compromise. A plan that gives you a 240-pound blocker with speed. He's not a Refrigerator, but he's no toaster, either.
Didier originally did the blocking against Philadelphia, but has been bothered by a sore knee, so Warren has taken over.
The next phase? How about the tight end taking a handoff?
"Then," said Jones, laughing, "we might have problems."
Riggins (bruised back) practiced yesterday at Redskin Park and "looked good," Gibbs said. He is expected to start Sunday at 4 p.m. against Dallas at RFK Stadium.
Linebacker Monte Coleman (strained right hamstring) also practiced. Gibbs said he will make a decision on activating Coleman off injured reserve by Saturday.
Didier was used sparingly because of his sore knee.
Cornerback Darrell Green has had the cast on his left hand (fractured third metacarpal bone) taken off. Although his hand still hurts, he said, he hopes to play against Dallas without the cast.
Informed that his team was a 2 1/2-point favorite over the Cowboys, Gibbs said, "Believe me, that's impossible. I know that's a joke . . . I'm sure we'll be the underdog (by game time), to get killed the way we did (in September)."