A friend, a kind and gentle man, woke up yesterday and thought about Dickie James.

Why Dickie James?

Because, he said, Dickie James (the Redskins' little running back of the late '50s and early '60s) always tried so hard and he thought at least the Redskins tried hard on Thursday at Dallas. Again, this is the opinion of a kind and gentle man.

A more unforgiving assessment is this: The Redskins don't have the players. At least not enough good ones. The worst part of this team is not the offense but the special teams. The offense is a close second. The defense is not to be confused with the Ravens' championship defense of two seasons ago, but Marvin Lewis, who coached that group, has just about maxed the job with this Redskins defense; it has a few standout players, but not much more.

Forget the coaching. The Redskins have assembled a poor team. Kind and gentle opinions aside, they need a general manager of the caliber of Bobby Beathard, under whom they enjoyed their greatest success. With him, they won two Super Bowls, and he assembled most of the cast that won a third Super Bowl, as Charley Casserly adroitly filled in the missing pieces. Beathard always presented Joe Gibbs a whole team and Gibbs, being the outstanding coach he was, made the most of it.

The Redskins haven't come close to matching the Beathard-Gibbs combination, and such a combination is almost imperative these days; very few can do both jobs. The days when a George Allen could do it all are over. Speaking of Allen, however, he would never assemble a squad without special teams that actually were special, that could shift the outcome of a game in favor of the Redskins -- and before that, the Rams, when he coached them.

The Redskins' current special teams have deteriorated so badly, they have put the thrill into the extra point. They have brought fear and cringing to the punt. On punts and kickoffs, they give up field position for the taking. The idea of a field goal has become a long shot.

The Redskins stand two games better than a team that seems to have existed about two minutes, the Houston Texans, shaped to reasonable competitiveness in their first season by none other than Casserly (with the help of a number of former Redskins staffers, especially in the scouting department).

Dan Snyder let Casserly go, but that was hardly the owner's only mistake.

He came close to bringing back Beathard this season, but didn't want to pay him what Beathard's reputation calls for.

A slew of valuable players have been allowed to leave under Snyder: Brian Mitchell, Brad Johnson (oh, the value of a quarterback), Derek Smith, Stephen Alexander, James Thrash, Shawn Barber, Marco Coleman, Kenard Lang, Dana Stubblefield, Larry Centers, Cory Raymer. The additions don't come close to equaling the subtractions.

And it was Casserly who drafted Champ Bailey and Jon Jansen.

It hurts more than a bit that both Gibbs and Beathard are together again but with another team, a team doing quite well, the Atlanta Falcons. Gibbs owns a small piece of the team; Beathard is serving as an adviser to the principal owner.

It hurts more to say that the Redskins this season could not have been worse under Marty.

Except that Snyder found no fun in Schottenheimer.

But this year, it's been no fun, no gun.

Having said that, Steve Spurrier is a bright man who by now surely has learned plenty about life in the NFL.

He probably knows now that a weak NFL offense, with just anyone playing the key positions, cannot fool even an average NFL defense the way a college offense can beat a college defense. NFL defenses won't allow it.

He has to know he needs better players on offense, that his schemes and dreams alone won't do it, although for better or worse he's probably always going to be more pass oriented than run oriented, meaning that Stephen Davis may be running elsewhere.

Next time around, Spurrier most certainly will pay closer attention to the roster being assembled for him. He is not going to look at the menu after the meal is served. It would be shocking if he didn't demand a better offensive line, better receivers, a better quarterback (Patrick Ramsey? Who knows, unless Spurrier gives him more of a chance?), a place kicker and a punter.

Spurrier's play-calling has to get better. You would think.

But Spurrier didn't create the feeling that lingers this morning, that we bit down on tough turkey Thursday.

No, that would be the owner's doing.

Snyder, not Spurrier, has had time and not gotten it right yet.

Without a top general manager, what you get is what the Redskins have had.

No vision.

No plan.