WASHINGTON — The thought of running backs George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant playing at the same time is so appealing to the Washington Redskins that they are toying with putting them in a two-back formation.
"I think you'll see it before the year's out," said Don Breaux, who coaches the team's running backs.
Or perhaps even sooner. Coach Joe Gibbs said he "wouldn't rule out" a trial run with a Rogers-Bryant backfield right now, as the regular season begins.
"If there's a way we could work out so we thought they'd be productive in two backs, sure, we'd go for it," Gibbs said. "I think we're just trying to fiddle right now with what's the best way to get (Bryant) in the game and what things to do with him."
This is not to say the familiar principles of the Redskins' offense will change Sunday against Philadelphia at RFK Stadium. It's likely that Rogers, the team's leading rusher in 1985, will work from the traditional one-back formation, with Bryant, part-receiver, part-runner, coming in for long-yardage plays and third downs.
When two backs are in the game, they most likely will continue to be a fullback (either Rick Badanjek or tight ends Don Warren or Terry Orr) and a tailback in the I-formation.
But, in a decided change of heart, Gibbs is tinkering with a backfield made especially for Rogers and Bryant, although neither is known as much of a blocker.
The new backfield almost certainly wouldn't be the I-formation, but perhaps a combination passing-running attack that calls for one or the other to stay in and block for quarterback Jay Schroeder, or puts one of them in motion in place of a tight end.
"You do other things with them (than blocking)," Gibbs said. "It's hard with two guys who are not blockers. I've said all the time a fullback would be the guy that causes us to go to two backs, a rock-'em, sock-'em kind of back."
But Gibbs, who used to dismiss categorically the Rogers-Bryant idea because of the blocking problem, now apparently wants to give it a try. The reason is simple enough: He watched Rogers pound his way for 235 yards in the exhibition season in four limited appearances. He also watched Bryant gain 66 sometimes-spectacular yards on nine receptions and 29 yards on four rushes in the last two games.
Gibbs might as well have a chess board in front of him, with an applause meter by his side for every move he makes. He is, after all, playing with multimillion-dollar pawns.
Could Rogers, who is 34 pounds heavier than Bryant, become the man in motion (H-back)? Gibbs was asked.
"You could do a lot of things," he said.
The Redskins have used two tight ends and one running back so long it's hard to imagine such a significant change. But, as Breaux said: "The one-back is the I-formation; it's just that your fullback is all along the line of scrimmage instead of being lined up in the backfield. It's the same thing.
"So you use George or Kelvin, and move them. . . . You'd have Kelvin as a pass receiver and George as the runner."
Breaux said the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams dabble with this kind of offense--with one huge difference. At least one of their runners is known for his blocking.
The Browns place Earnest Byner, a good blocker, at slot back or tight end or even wide receiver, while Kevin Mack, their more conventional back, lines up behind quarterback Bernie Kosar. Byner was the second-leading receiver on the team a year ago, and both running backs gained more than 1,000 yards.
The Bears put fullbacks Matt Suhey or Calvin Thomas in motion as the H-back and leave Walter Payton in the backfield with quarterback Jim McMahon. The Rams do the same with Barry Redden and Eric Dickerson.
"It's a fun problem," Johnny Roland, the Bears' running backs coach, said. "If I had Rogers and Bryant, I'd try to get them both in the backfield in a two-back attack. I guess they're not known as blockers, but, if you were throwing to Bryant, say, it might not be so bad (with Rogers blocking) because pass blocking is different than run blocking. Defenses don't blitz every time.
"But they're not doing too bad in Washington with the one-back, are they? They can use them like they did when they had (John) Riggins and Rogers, run them 20 times a game. They can run them until one wears out, then use the other."
There are some at Redskin Park who believe Rogers and Bryant would be better off complementing each other--one on the sideline, one in the huddle--than sharing the backfield.
And there are some who feel strongly both ways.
Said Breaux: "It's more like a Joe Washington-Riggo situation. There's more versatility there. What you have in Kelvin, like you did with Joe, you've got a guy who's a potential pass receiver and very definitely a potential runner as well."
Guard R.C. Thielemann said he could see a two-back offense working here, but likes the one-back more.
"George pounds them and then they bring in Kelvin," he said. "The defense can never rest. There's always somebody there who is as good as the other guy."
Ask Rogers and Bryant, sitting side by side in the Washington locker room, and they just shrug their shoulders.
"I like the one-back offense," Rogers said. "It works out good. That way, I get some rest."
"I think he's going to do most of the running and I'm going to do most of the pass catching," Bryant said. "I haven't been here that long. I don't really know what my position is yet."
In addition to playing running back, the coaches want Bryant to practice returning punts, something he has not done since high school.