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Coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington redskins suffered the first losing season of his career last year. The defense was hit by injuries. so were the quarterbacks. The offensive line was in disarray. There was no big, pounding back in the John Riggins tradition. The heavy-duty running attack, which is the heart and soul of Gibbs's football philosophy, was a memory. The Skins wound up 25th in the league in rushing, averaging fewer than 100 yards a game.
Player acquisitions that were supposed to send Washington back to the Super Bowl turned sour. Linebacker Wilber Marshall was lost in the Redskins' scheme, which called on him to play closer to the combat zone than he had with the Bears. Tackle Jim Lachey, who had come from the Raiders, was nothing special. And after the season Bobby Beathard, the high-powered general manager, quit.
Gibbs has reshaped the '89 Skins in his own image. He has not one but two big, thumping backs—Gerald Riggs from Atlanta and Earnest Byner from Cleveland. The line—with Lachey back on the left side, tackle Joe Jacoby on the right, and Russ Grimm, who had been on injured reserve for two years, back at guard—appears to be set.
Washington has excellent receivers. Art Monk and Gary Clark are former Pro Bowlers, and the third wideout, Ricky Sanders, had a better year in '88 than either of them. But who's going to get them the ball? Doug Williams is out for at least two months after back surgery. Mark Rypien has six NFL starts; Stan Humphries has none.
Both cornerbacks, Darrell Green and Barry Wilburn, played hurt last year, and teams picked on them. Now they're healthy, and Wilburn will back up at free safety. Strong safety Alvin Walton is a super hitter who has led the team in tackles for the last two seasons.
Washington traded its first-and second-round picks, but the draft yielded a pair of 12th-round discoveries, tailback Joe Mickles and tight end Jimmie Johnson, who wowed 'em in the exhibitions. Beathard found them. Call them his going-away presents.
New York giants coach Bill Parcells would like to title his 1989 highlight film The Beast That Ate the NFL. For the second straight year he used his first two draft choices to land massive offensive linemen. Brian Williams, who's 6'5", 300 pounds, and Bob Kratch (6'3", 288) will join last year's first two picks, Eric Moore (6'5", 290) and Jumbo Elliott (6'7", 305).
Parcells picked up hitting types for the secondary: safety Greg Jackson, who was a third-rounder, and 223-pound safety Greg Cox, a Plan B acquisition from San Francisco. Parcells traded with Dallas to get 248-pound Steve DeOssie to man an inside linebacking post. In the sixth round Parcells drafted 6'5", 245-pound Howard Cross, a tight end who blocks much better than he catches, and in the fourth round he picked up a slashing, punishing runner named Lewis Tillman. No wonder quarterback Phil Simms spent the off-season in the weight room. The locker room is no place for skinny bodies.
Tailback Joe Morris has to erase the memories of the power sweep and concentrate on finding daylight behind a butt-to-butt offensive line. Three defensive leaders—linebacker Harry Carson, end George Martin and nosetackle Jim Burt—have to be replaced.
One defensive play in the final game last season cost the Giants the division title. The Jets, who trailed by a point, faced third-and-four on the Giants' five-yard line with 37 seconds remaining. For some reason the Giants went into a goal-line defense, leaving a backup safety to cover 6'4" wideout Al Toon. Toon caught a fade pass in the end zone, and the Giants' season was history.