Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and his staff huddled behind closed doors yesterday for the pleasant task of reviewing a 37-10 preseason victory over the Los Angeles Rams and the unpleasant task of wrestling with the remaining 13 final roster decisions.
Most of those decisions about the NFL-mandated Labor Day cutdown from 60 players to 47 probably were made before Friday night's exhibition windup in RFK Stadium, but Gibbs had promised that several players in trouble would get long looks.
That's why Ken Whisenhunt started at H-back, and Gibbs and his staff could look again at his nine-yard touchdown catch. Joe Howard was back on the kickoff return team and gave Gibbs an 84-yard return to review. Terry Orr saw a long night of action at H-back and on special teams and caught a 20-yard scoring pass.
But there was a lot more as the Redskins (3-1) ended preseason with a solid performance over a crippled opponent. They rolled up 350 yards offense, held the Rams to 110 and were in control, 24-10, by halftime.
A running game that got cranked up in the fourth quarter at Cleveland last weekend had another good day, 160 yards, including 62 on 16 carries by Earnest Byner, who solidified his position as the No. 1 running back.
Quarterback Mark Rypien shook off a 62-yard interception return for a Rams touchdown by ill-fated Jerry Gray (drastic knee injury) and had a decent night, completing seven of 13 for 99 yards and three touchdowns. Chip Lohmiller finished an eight-for-eight preseason with field goals of 37, 43 and 20 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Wilber Marshall had another big game, making four unassisted tackles and forcing two fumbles. Newcomer lineman Tim Johnson had a sack. Safety Alvin Walton knocked down three passes.
Perhaps the best defensive news was the return of cornerback Brian Davis. Having missed almost all of training camp with a pulled quadriceps -- an injury that has sidelined him three times in four years -- Davis played both nickel and corner situations and pronounced himself ready for next week's opener here against Phoenix.
The Redskins considered his 1990 debut more than a little special. Martin Mayhew and Darrell Green are solid starters. But with so many multiple receiver formations, the Redskins wanted to go against the Cardinals with four experienced corners. They have those with Mayhew, Green, Davis and Wayne Davis.
"This was my first feeling of actually being on the team," Brian Davis said. "It has been so frustrating not to be a part of things."
It was an especially good night considering the game was "my third day of practice," Davis said. "I've got training camp blisters and my hamstrings feel like a banjo. I stood on the sideline and got sore and stiff. I still need to get in shape and get the soreness out. This is what happens when you've been sitting on your rear for a month."
Another happy one was Byner, who began training camp as the starting running back and finished with solid work against the Rams. The Redskins ran 18 plays in the first quarter, 11 of them for Byner, who responded with 52 yards.
"It was just a matter of time until we got it going," said. "It was just a matter of doing it enough to get it right. Running is a confidence thing and when we got it going against Cleveland, it seemed to carry over."
Gibbs has said Byner will start but he's not sure how he'll use his running backs. He said there will be days when Byner is his 35-carry workhorse, others when Gerald Riggs or James Wilder could do the heavy duty.
"I don't think he even knows how he'll use us," one player said.
Byner said: "It's going to take all of us. The coaches have tough choices to make, but before this is over they'll need everyone. My goal was never to be the starter. It was to come in and have a productive camp. If you do that, you'll get your chances."
Gibbs and his staff have spent several weeks working on a game plan for the Cardinals and they'll return to it in the next day or so.
But first, there's the matter of considering the performances of the Whisenhunts, Howards and Orrs and perhaps saying goodbye to some players they've gotten to know the last six weeks -- and in some cases the last several years.
"These are tough, tough decisions," Gibbs said. "This is the time of year coaches really hate. It may be different in other organizations where you have guys you don't think can play. We've got a lot of people here who can play. I've said before this is as hard-working a group as I've ever had. You get to know these people and you like them."
The Redskins have decisions in almost every area, but none tougher than at tight end/H-back, where seven players appear to be competing for perhaps four spots. Three of those berths will be filled by Don Warren, Jimmie Johnson and likely John Brandes -- a solid special-teams performer who is the snapper on punts.
That leaves four players competing for one spot, and when Friday's game began, Ron Middleton had a slight lead over Orr with Whisenhunt and Mike Tice in trouble.
The problem in making an Orr vs. Middleton decision is that either way the Redskins will be letting a favorite player go. They've cut Middleton three other times. He was the last cut of 1989, and after the season when he was left unprotected by the Browns, the Redskins persuaded him to return. Against his wife's advice, Middleton returned to the Redskins.
Meanwhile Orr has been a Redskin for four years and both a special-teams star and solid H-back. He's smart, polite, hard-working and represents just about everything Gibbs wants in people he calls "good Redskins." Cutting him would be wrenching for Gibbs.
One option would be to keep a fifth player at this position. That will certainly be explored, although it seems highly unlikely since it would mean cutting rookie running back Brian Mitchell or someone else who deserves to make the team.
The decisions may be easier in other places. Rookies Cary Conklin and Mo Elewonibi appear headed for injured reserve. Rookie middle linebacker Jon Leverenz strained a hamstring and may now get a season on injured reserve as well.
At least one more offensive lineman must go, and even though Ray Brown played some Friday night, the Redskins say he has a bad knee and could be forced onto IR.
Two receivers have to go, and despite Friday's good efforts, Howard and Stephen Hobbs are in trouble since the Redskins will keep four proven ones -- Art Monk, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders and Walter Stanley.
Two defensive linemen will go and Pat Swoopes entered Friday's game with a slight edge over Alonzo Mitz and Milford Hodge. Mitz had a sack, but Swoopes had three tackles and probably won himself a job.
The other two decisions are in the secondary. Safety Clarence Vaughn's sore shoulder may have won at least a temporary place for rookie Rico Labbe, a fourth-round draft pick with local roots. At cornerback, Brian Davis's return to action probably means free agent Alvoid Mays will be let go.