Keep the Hogs healthy, put a big, crunching ball carrier behind them and the WASHINGTON REDSKINS are in business. It's a formula that has given them more regular-season victories (33) than any other team in the NFC the last three years. It has also given them the greatest time of possession, meaning their defense was getting plenty of rest. Get the picture? Keep Hogging the ball and everything else falls into place.
Last year the formula broke down at exactly the wrong time. The Redskins went into the playoffs against the Bears minus their center, Jeff Bostic, who tore up his knee at midseason, with All-Pro left tackle Joe Jacoby barely able to lift his left arm and the rest of the Hogs suffering various aches and pains. Then in the first half, right guard Ken Huff broke his ankle and in came Mo Towns, who had been activated the day before. Throwing a makeshift line against the Bears is like trying to plug a leak with mud, and they poured through, sacking Joe Theismann seven times. John Riggins, who had had a heroic year, regularly checking into the hospital at midweek to put his back in traction, was stopped, and the Redskin season ended.
Well, Bostic is still out. He's expected back by October—maybe—but the rest of the Hogs are O.K. And Riggins, his back presumably all right, will have some help carrying the load because G.M. Bobby Beathard made a trade, a biggie. From the Saints came 224-pound George Rogers, who has never had such a line to run behind. Rogers cost the Skins a No. 1 draft pick, but what the heck. They've traded 14 of the last 17. Last year Riggins practically begged management to find him some heavy-duty relief, but he will have gotten more than he bargained for this time if Rogers pushes him out of a starting job and into the role he had four years ago, the short-yardage goal-line specialist ("DH," Riggins calls it).
Riggins ended his holdout Aug. 12, signing for a reported $850,000 for the '85 season. Optimists said that he just wanted to save his legs, and his back, from the rigors of demanding two-a-days. Riggins's absence, plus several newspaper reports that he might have an alcohol problem, were among many training camp distractions.
Charlie Brown, an All-Pro wideout in '83 but injured in '84, will be back to complement Art Monk, who's coming off a huge 106-catch season. Elsewhere everything is basically in place. Mark Moseley got into a daily, circus-type kicking shootout with USFL import Tony Zendejas, but coach Joe Gibbs pointed out that the last time Moseley had to battle for his job he had the best year of his career. St. Louis will offer the most serious challenge to the Skins this year, with the Giants and Dallas also gunning for them.
There's some flash and dash on the ST. LOUIS CARDINALS. The flash is Neil Lomax, their outstanding young quarterback, and the dash comes from Roy Green, pro football's most consistent long-ball receiver, and tailback Ottis Anderson, who at 28 is already the 11th-leading rusher of all time. The defense has plenty of big league performers—Bubba Baker and Curtis Greer at the ends, middle linebacker E.J. Junior, tackle David Galloway, free safety Benny Perrin. All the ingredients are there for a season in which the Cards, as the NFC's emerging nation, could challenge the 49ers for a Super Bowl trip.
There is a problem, however, with the offensive line, and it especially bothers coach Jim Hanifan because he got his NFL baptism with this unit. Left tackle Luis Sharpe, whom Hanifan called "the finest tackle in the game," jumped to Memphis of the USFL. Shock wave No. 2 hit when left guard Terry Stieve retired. He'd had a good minicamp and he'd worked hard in the off-season, but when regular training began he decided that nine years was enough. His backup is Doug Dawson, last year's No. 2 pick. He started one NFL game and now he must face the Cowboys' Randy White twice a year. Sharpe's backup, Art Plunkett, was penciled in as the left tackle, but one day at practice Sharpe showed up. A week later Memphis gave the Cards permission to talk to him (there's a buy-out provision in his contract). Could be Hanifan's major headache may be cured before the opening game.
Last year the Cards came one missed 50-yard field goal away from the playoffs, but it never would have come down to that if they hadn't gone through a three-game losing streak in which they committed 17 turnovers. They're hungry now and they're ready. A return by Sharpe could put them over the top.
Guess what? This season there isn't a quarterback controversy yet on the DALLAS COWBOYS. There's a running back controversy. Next season maybe there'll be a tight end controversy, then split end, right down the lineup until, in the year 2000, the team will be involved in a groundskeeper controversy. What's that you say? This one's deeper, more meaningful, than the same old I-wanna-play disputes. O.K., deep, as in deep in the hole. Tony Dorsett, who has carried what there was of the Dallas offense since Roger Staubach retired, can't hold on to his dough. At this writing it seemed possible that his contract would be reworked. He's too valuable a commodity to remain at home sulking while the club struggles to match last year's 9-7, non-playoff season. Assuming Tony D will be back to execute those nifty cutback moves and break long gainers behind a line that's getting shoved in his face, what kind of mental shape will he be in? The guess is good. He's an athlete, a terrific competitor. He hasn't missed a game in four years. He gained 1,189 yards last year in an offense that averaged 19.25 points a game, the fewest in 20 years.
Tom Landry benched Danny White last year and gave Gary Hogeboom the QB job, but he couldn't hold it and it was White's again. Tony Hill is the only real receiving threat. Tight end Doug Cosbie catches one pass, drops one and gets called for pushing off on the third. The offensive line has no stickouts and last year it was banged up. Landry likes quick linemen, but he might go the monster route and bring in 6'4", 293-pound rookie Crawford Ker and 6'8", 288-pound Chris Schultz, who occupied a wide spot on the bench last season.
The defense, a recklessly attacking and blitzing group in '84, occasionally will have a 3-4 look, with Randy White moving all over the line, sometimes dropping back as an inside linebacker.
One play from the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 3 seems ominous. The NEW YORK GIANTS were playing the Houston Oilers. The Giants' center was Conrad Goode, who was drafted high as a tackle last season. He's a guy they hope will take over for last year's regular, Kevin Belcher, who's out for the season. Oiler middle guard Mike Stensrud, who's far from gifted as a pass rusher, put a move on the kid and threw him. Now the highway to quarterback Phil Simms was free of traffic and Stensrud roared in well over the speed limit. Next thing you know, Simms is out of the game. Torn finger. Unscheduled R & R.
Hey, Giants! Simms is the one guy you can't lose. He had a productive year and you made the playoffs. In '83 he was hurt and you went 3-12-1. Don't mess around with conversion projects. Find linemen who can make sure your QB stays vertical. Where, you say? Well, how about the USFL? Bart Oates of the Baltimore Stars wouldn't embarrass you at center. Gary Zimmerman of the Express was a hell of a blocker. He can play guard, tackle, center, you name it. So what if he was asking for a lot of dough—and his agent was suing the world to get the supplemental draft ruled illegal? Only money. Don't forget, the Giants once gave up a million bucks for Larry Csonka.
Last year the Giants sacrificed their running game to keep Simms healthy. The linemen narrowed their splits and went shoulder to shoulder and the runners had few holes to squeeze through. Maybe the No. 1 draft pick, halfback George Adams, can find some, or that big blocking fullback from the USFL, Maurice Carthon, will drill a few. But Simms and his good receivers—Byron Williams, Bob Johnson, Lionel Manuel, Zeke Mowatt—are too good a formula to mess with.
The defense is playoff caliber, even though Lawrence Taylor is coming off a weird kind of year. He free-lanced a lot, ran all over the place, took a lot of cheap shots, often diving over the pile to get at a guy's legs. And then in camp he complained about people going after him. Ah well, greatness has its own rules.
The cover of the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES press guide is devoted to the smiling face of Norman Braman, the new owner. He's holding a football. There's a faraway look in his eyes. Maybe he's dreaming of those 21 car dealerships that make all that money for him. Or the dough he would save if those 11 veterans who refused to report to camp really stayed out. Or the big package he wouldn't have to pay if, as he threatened, he really traded away his top draft pick, holdout tackle Kevin Allen.
At his first press conference, after he took over the team from the Tose family, Braman held up a T shirt that read EAGLES SUPER BOWL '86. We soon learned that he was furious at the big renegotiated contracts his predecessors gave to a couple of defensive vets, and, no, he wouldn't honor the promises to other guys, such as quarterback Ron Jaworski.
Super Bowl? Uh-uh, it doesn't work that way, boss. You pay for what you get.
Only 28, the Cardinals' Anderson is already the NFL's 11th leading rusher.
RONALD C. MODRA
Mowatt should contribute many glovely catches to the Giants' potent passing game.
RONALD C. MODRA
Dorsett must be at his best if Dallas is to avoid another taxing season.