Amid talk of the strike and its aftermath, of training camp-sized rosters and potential problems on the practice field, it has been easy to overlook the fact that one of the Washington Redskins' two teams is in the midst of Dallas week.
It should come as no surprise that Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs says he has made no decisions about how he will handle next week's 85-player roster, or if he even will keep 85 players.
He has been too busy telling his players about the heated Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. Some didn't know.
Gibbs also has been trying to figure out a way his totally nonunion team can defeat a veteran-laden Cowboys team Monday night at Texas Stadium. Both teams are 3-1. The winner takes the lead in the NFC East.
Defensive tackle Dan Benish, one of the few NFL veterans among the replacement players, said that in team meetings before the New York Giants game, the coaches repeatedly told the players how much the Redskins disliked the Giants.
The players got the message and beat the Giants, 38-12.
When the team met with the coaches to start preparing for Dallas early this week, Benish said the coaches told them, "We said we didn't like the Giants. That was true. But Dallas is different. We really don't like Dallas."
Until Friday, almost every member of the Redskins' 2-0 replacement team thought this would be his last week as a Redskin. News that roster sizes would be increased to 85 next Tuesday buoyed their spirits. But there were indications yesterday at Redskin Park that the team might not keep a roster of that size.
Redskins officials were surprised at the roster size announced by the league. They expected teams to be able to keep an extra 10 players or so, but not an extra 40.
Although no decisions have been reached, two team officials said keeping 85 players would be unmanageable. "You can't practice that many players," one said.
At training camp, the Redskins had more than 100 players, but officials said that during the season, as the team prepares for a new game every week, it's impractical to have that many players on one practice field.
But they also don't want to make their replacement players available to sign with someone else. The Redskins want some of these players to work with their veterans in practice this year, then return to training camp to try to earn a job next summer.
The Redskins also are grappling with the problem of finding room for 85 players in their facility. There are 60 lockers in the Redskin Park locker room. Right now, about 50 are labeled with the last names of replacement players on adhesive tape. Yesterday morning, several of the returning veterans ripped the names off their regular lockers. Both sides, regular and replacement players, laughed about it later.
This incident was not ignored by team officials, however. The regular players are quite protective of their turf. The ramifications are subtle, but important to Gibbs.
Sometime in the next two days, the brain trust of the Redskins will gather to discuss how to handle one of the most volatile situations they have faced since they have been together.
They must decide how to take two teams and make them one. They must consider the feelings of their returning strikers. They must show the proper appreciation to players who have won two consecutive games for them.
They want to keep some replacement players, but they also want to keep tempers down. Some of the possible candidates for the new roster are H-back Craig McEwen, free safety Steve Gage, punt returner Derrick Shepard, offensive tackle Mark Carlson, defensive lineman Kit Lathrop, running backs Wayne Wilson and Lionel Vital, quarterbacks Ed Rubbert and Tony Robinson and wide receiver Anthony Allen.
There are others, of course, but at least one team official said he doesn't expect the team to keep many more than 10 replacement players. It's expected roster sizes will drop quickly after next weekend's games, and the official said when things return to normal, perhaps two or three players from the replacement team will make the final team.
Almost all of the injured players who went on strike are ready to return to practice, said head trainer Bubba Tyer. Offensive tackle Mark May (partially torn knee ligament), running back George Rogers (sprained shoulder), middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz (cartilage injury in knee) and H-back Clint Didier (pulled hamstring) all will be able to practice next week, Tyer said.
In fact, every injured Redskin, including rookie offensive tackle Wally Kleine, H-back Terry Orr and wide receiver Clarence Verdin, is able to practice, with the exception of kicker Jess Atkinson (dislocated ankle).
The Redskins will count them among the 85-man roster only if they can play against the New York Jets next Sunday. Otherwise, they would keep them on injured reserve, which is exclusive of the huge roster.
Some in the Redskins organization believe the roster rule benefits the NFL's worst teams, those who are trying to develop a stable roster. An established team like the Redskins, with veterans manning nearly every position and qualified backups at many spots, doesn't have as much to gain.
For example, it's uncertain what will happen to players like Rubbert, Allen and Vital, three standouts on the replacement team. Each plays a position at which the Redskins have a number of good players.
These are major concerns, but they are the least of Gibbs' worries at the moment. For a man who despises distractions, this week has been one headache after another. He has had to alter his practice schedule to accommodate the regular players, who are using Redskin Park in the morning. The nonunion team has been forced to come to work at noon and practice into the evening, but Gibbs said the later hours might not be so bad because the game is late, too.
The regular players realize the difficult task their replacements will face Monday.
"I am going to be rooting for them in a strange way," said linebacker Mel Kaufman. "They can help us."
Olkewicz called wanting Washington to win, "The lesser of two evils. The Cowboys have 12 scabs."