Three months ago, Joe Bugel, the man who watches over the Washington Redskins offensive line, was talking about how bigger players were not only better along the line, but also necessary these days in the National Football League. The Redskins offensive line had slumped, and there was only one answer.
Bugel wanted 300-pound men, or close to that, blocking for his team this season.
"That's no joke," he said then.
"We weren't kidding," he says now. "It's working. Definitely. Absolutely."
Although their real players have played only four games this season, the Redskins already can tell that their grand experiment of the summer of 1987 is working. So can anyone else who watched the way the Washington line blew the defensive linemen of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills off the ball the last two weeks.
On Aug. 3, Bugel replaced center Jeff Bostic, a slight 260 or so, with Russ Grimm, who weighs about 275 pounds. He then moved Raleigh McKenzie, who is about Grimm's size, into the starting lineup at guard. With tackles Joe Jacoby and Mark May playing 300-pound bookends, and with veteran R.C. Thielemann, about 270 himself, at the other guard, Bugel created the biggest offensive line the Redskins have ever had.
Now, four games into their strike-torn season, come the results: the Redskins offensive line has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league, while the Redskins also are leading the league in rushing. The common denominator in those categories? The offensive line.
Only two teams in the NFL have given up fewer than 10 sacks this season: Miami and Washington. The Dolphins have given up six; the Redskins seven (four on the regular quarterbacks, three on the replacement quarterbacks).
The Redskins are averaging 166 yards rushing per game, best in the NFL. Cincinnati is second with 162. To hear running back George Rogers talk the other day, one would have thought Grimm or Jacoby had picked him up and carried him for his 125 yards Sunday against the Bills, so pleased was he with the line.
"We're happy with the way it's worked out," Grimm said yesterday at Redskin Park as preparations for Sunday's game at Philadelphia proceeded.
"I feel comfortable at center and all the wrinkles are mostly ironed out. We're definitely bigger across the front.
"But I don't think size means everything. It's still a game of leverage, it's still a game of feet, and it's still a game of assignments.
"You could put five 350-pounders across there, and if they don't know who to block and how to block, I don't think weight really has that much to do with it."
There has been considerable talk among these offensive linemen that this line might be as good as -- or even better than -- the Hogs of 1982 and 1983, the Super Bowl years. Grimm, May, Jacoby and Bostic (now a reserve) were just beginning their careers here then. Now they are trusted veterans. This makes a huge difference, Bugel said.
"We have a mental edge on a lot of people because we're all veterans," he said.
"I think we can definitely be better than the offensive line we had in the '82 Super Bowl," Grimm said.
"The guys who are still here who were on that team are a lot more mature and we picked up R.C. and Raleigh, who have done well. We have a lot more depth than what we ever had, we have a lot more experience and we're just better across the board."
Bostic said the first two games played by the line prior to the strike "were kind of subpar." What impressed him was the way the line returned from the strike to play against the Jets, allowing no sacks.
"For such a long layoff, I don't see how the line could have played any better than it did last week against the Jets," Bostic said.
May, who returned from a knee injury after the strike, said Bugel's decision to go with "heavier players" has worked "very well so far."
Said May: "If you're bigger and stronger than your opponent, you're going to have the upper hand."
Wide receiver Gary Clark missed practice with tendinitis in his right knee and a sore right hamstring, he said, adding he still hopes he can play Sunday. "It's back a little bit like what it was last year," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "Something popped in his knee. It's sore, so we'll just have to see." If the Redskins need another receiver, they probably will go with Clarence Verdin or Anthony Allen off their reserve squad . . . Tight end Joe Caravello will play if his back stays healthy, Gibbs said.