Eight weeks after the Washington Redskins began trying to decide whether their middle linebacker should be Greg Manusky or Kurt Gouveia, they appear to have reached a verdict. Neither is a clear winner.
In this era of platooning linemen, rotating receivers and situation defenses, an era when the classic middle linebacker might soon be obsolete, the Redskins have decided the best man for this job is two men.
The Redskins say Manusky is big enough to defend the run, but too slow to cover the pass. Gouveia may be too small to stop the run, but he is quick enough to defend the pass.
Therefore, there is ManuskyGouveia, middle linebacker. It is a strange setup, but it is like a lot of other things on a defense that work better on the field than on the classroom blackboards.
"It's kind of weird," Gouveia said yesterday as the Redskins finished their last hard day of work in preparation for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium. "I can't say I really understand it. I doubt that Greg understands it."
What has developed is a platoon system in which Manusky starts games and plays most first downs. Occasionally, he will be in for a second-down play if the Redskins believe it is a running situation.
But Gouviea plays all passing downs and lately has been playing some non-passing downs. Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed Manusky was playing first down, Gouveia everything else.
Redskins linebackers coach Larry Peccatiello said Gouveia plays passing downs, Manusky running downs. But the rub is that it often is hard to tell which is which.
"Generally second and seven is a passing down," he said, "but that can change, depending on the tendencies of the opponent."
He also said Gouveia probably would play less against the Cowboys "because he got a little winded last week. He has so many duties on special teams that we'll probably back him off a little."
If it is an odd platoon, it may be because the game is odder than ever. Peccatiello said if he had a Dick Butkus he would play him every down, "but that with the way football is going, the traditional middle linebacker is going to be obsolete in a few years. Teams are doing so many more things with their offense that what you need out of that position has changed."
Sharing one position is perfect for a team that rotates players at nearly every other position anyway. It may also be perfect for two players who already have so much in common.
Gouveia had one college scholarship offer and he still is unsure of how Brigham Young discovered a high school quarterback and decided to turn him into a sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
Manusky had several choices -- to schools such as Bucknell and Lehigh. He decided on Colgate, and until arriving at RFK Stadium as a 1988 free agent, his biggest game had been a Colgate-Army contest that drew about 35,000 fans.
Both are fanatic weight-lifters. Both are smart. Both care.
"If you're talking about effort, hard work and giving it everything you have, this football team doesn't have two players any better," Peccatiello said. "I don't know that either of them could give us any more of their God-given ability. We're getting it all."
Manusky is not fast enough to cover receivers, but he is 6 feet 1, 242 pounds and plenty big enough to stop the run. Gouveia, 6-1, 227, may not be big enough to stop the run -- or at least he is not as big as Manusky.
But he is an outstanding athlete and a decent guy on pass coverage. Both Peccatiello and Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly say he was the best college player either had ever seen. They say if he were a little bigger, he might be a Pro Bowl middle linebacker.
An eighth-round draft choice in 1986 who was not supposed to last through training camp, much less stay around five seasons, Gouveia has seemed on the verge of winning the job for so long that at times he seems like the starter.
"When I'm told to go in, I go in," he said. "It's not just passing downs, so I don't know if you'd call it a straight up-and-down platoon."
He won't complain, but he clearly wants to start. "Sure, it's important," he said. "It's very important. It can open doors for you as far as financial opportunities, respect, things like that. If you don't, it's like you're being held back."
He shrugs. "I'm guess I'm a jack of all trades, master of none," he said. "The thing you have to remind yourself is that you're happy and fortunate to be here. You stay around, you see a lot of players come and go, and no matter what, you want to be one of the 47 guys on this team."
Manusky never claimed to be the next Mike Singletary, only a guy who worked hard and tried to play smart.
He showed up at training camp with a mohawk haircut and occasionally fakes a devil-may-care attitude. The truth is, the Redskins say, he is among their hardest workers. He graduated from Colgate with a degree in eduation and geology.
"I'm just happy to play and be in there as much as possible," he said. ". . . I enjoy everything about this game. I like coming to practice, I like working out in the offseason. My thinking is if you're doing something you like, life can't be too bad."
Manusky was undrafted in 1988 and signed with the Redskins after another former Colgate star, Mark Murphy, convinced him the Redskins didn't just bring in free agents to be practice fodder.
"He said I'd get a chance and told me about a bunch of guys who'd made it," Manusky said. "I knew I was a long shot, but I thought if I came in, hustled and made a play or two I'd have a chance. I still feel that way. I don't think I'm going to have anything given to me. Nothing ever has been."
Gouveia was the 213th pick in 1986, which was higher than perhaps he ever expected to be picked.
"When people constantly don't think you can do certain things, I think it probably does make you work harder," he said. "I've always had to work and when you get to this level, you have to work that much harder. I'm sure Greg feels the same way."