Say this for Otto Graham: when he finally accepted a major coaching job after a peaceful decade in the small time, he chose no pushover. The team that got Coach Bill Mc-Peak fired was both weak and clique-ridden. Secure in the 10-year contract given him by Edward Bennett Williams, the club's forceful new president, Graham has taken a tough line and has gotten the Redskins' undivided attention. He has also won the gleeful attention of the town's newspapermen, who have pounced on such candid, imprudent and delectable Graham quotes as, "I can take the boos, the jeers, the farewell signs." Graham may have to take quite a lot for quite a while in the course of rebuilding the Redskins.
Graham has given first priority to the detection of mental errors. Every offender, from Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen to the greenest rookie, jogs 100 yards for each mistake made in practice. "We don't care if they actually run the distance or not," says Graham. "What's more important is that they use their heads out there on the field."
Graham prays that one of his most prominent thinkers will be Jurgensen, the man Philadelphia swapped for Norm Snead two years ago in a deal that had both cities buzzing. Jurgensen is a nine-year veteran with a beautiful arm who can pass for 400 yards one Sunday and look terrible the next. Under Graham, Sonny has trimmed down his familiar paunch and is said to be newly serious. Actually the key to Washington's passing inconsistency is not in Sonny, who has always been a fine quarterback, but in the lack of dependable pass-blocking and the fact that he has a one-man receiving corps. Jurgensen would be delighted with a facsimile of the well-insulated passing pocket that Graham used to enjoy at Cleveland. As things stand, however, he rarely has more than a second or two in which to get his passes away. When he does throw, all too often it is to Flanker Bobby Mitchell. Knowing that Jurgensen considers Mitchell his only first-rate receiver, opponents almost always double-team him. When Dick Shiner, the No. 2 quarterback, relieves Jurgensen, he faces the same serious problems.
Mitchell had a poor season in 1965 but now is reportedly back in top form. He says he has never felt better and claims that Assistant Coach Ray Renfro, one of Graham's old Cleveland passing targets, has already taught him more football than he had previously learned in years. Beyond Mitchell there is the usual uncertainty. Graham, willing to try anything to improve the receiving, moved Jim Snowden from tackle to tight end, but this did not prove to be a smart switch, and he moved him back. Veteran Preston Carpenter had moved into the backfield to make room for Snowden, but he is back at the old stand now. Pat Richter was a disappointment at tight end, but he has the hands to be an interesting receiver once he grows accustomed to the traffic. The running game also remains a problem. Charley Taylor, Rookie of the Year in 1964, was slowed all last season by an ankle injury and so the defenses stacked up on the quarterbacks. Taylor is healthy again, but it remains to be seen whether Graham can find other runners of sufficient quality to give Taylor relief and rest. Ron Rector, obtained from Green Bay, should help. Equally important is the need to get some fullback pass-blocking for Jurgensen. Big George Hughley (226 pounds), a surprise last year from Central State College of Oklahoma, is the starter.
Adding to Graham's and Jurgensen's worries, the interior line has not yet begun to function smoothly as a unit. The defense had been looking up for the Redskins, who had moved from 12th to fourth to second in the statistics in three years, but as Graham moved in several veterans moved out. End "Mean John" Paluck has been traded to the Bears, and that was a major loss. The starting ends are now Willie Adams, switched from linebacker, and Carl Kammerer. Veteran Fred Williams and rookie Walt Barnes are scrambling for one tackle spot. Joe Rutgens at the other tackle is the Redskins' best defensive lineman. John Reger, who has come out of retirement, and Sam Huff are experienced linebackers, but Washington will be badly hurt by the retirement of Jim Carr and Bob Pellegrini to pro coaching jobs. Huff and Reger are likely to be joined by Chris Hanburger, who started live games in 1965.
In the secondary Safety Paul Krause is All-League, but a lot is being asked of Rickie Harris, who replaces Johnny Sample at left corner back. Sample, a problem character but an able, experienced man at a position where experience is precious, has switched leagues to the New York Jets. Lonnie Sanders is an adequate strong-side safety, and Graham has been pleased with backup men Tom Walters and Billy Clay.
Charlie Gogolak is a brighter subject. The new pride of the 'Skins is the second-smallest man in the NFL and, of course, brother of Pete, who place-kicks for the Giants. Dratted No. 1 out of Princeton and paid a big bonus, Charlie is supposed to eliminate the suspense from the extra-point play in Washington—and the frustration from the field-goal attempt.
Graham and Williams are clearly determined to get the Redskins moving, but it will not be this year. They look like a sixth-place team.