SAN DIEGO — His career shattered by a broken leg last year, Joe Theismann retired and became a broadcaster, leaving perhaps the second-biggest job in the nation's capital to a player who had thrown a grand total of eight passes as a pro.
Jay Schroeder had spent more time as a minor league baseball player--four seasons--than he had in the employ of the Washington Redskins. But he proved himself almost immediately, throwing a 44-yard pass on the second play after Theismann was hurt.
Schroeder was a third-round draft choice of the Redskins in 1984. He had left UCLA's football program after the 1980 season and had tried his hand at a pro baseball career that went nowhere. Now he has quarterbacked the Redskins to a 2-0 record, the best start for Washington since the Super Bowl year of 1982.
He is a bigger, stronger and probably more gifted athlete than Theismann. His only deficiency, in comparison to the departed Redskin quarterback, is in the area of verbal communication. Where Theismann was perhaps the most quotable player in pro football, Schroeder is as guarded as a politician straddling both sides of an issue.
Take the matter of the Redskin game plan for this week's game against the Chargers. Common sense would dictate that the Redskins test San Diego's rookie cornerback, Donald Brown, who will start in place of injured Danny Walters.
Heck, even Charger Coach Don Coryell admitted as much. Asked if Washington might be expected to pick on Brown, he replied: "I don't see any reason why not. Everybody in this league throws the football. Of course, knowing (Coach) Joe (Gibbs), he'll probably pick on us with the run, too. That's more his nature."
Schroeder was evasively diplomatic in dealing with the Brown question.
"We know the Chargers have a very aggressive secondary and they make you run good routes," he said. "We'll try to match up with them. Redskin football is making the running game go. Our passing opens up from there."
Gibbs said the Chargers' loss of Walters, who is out for the year after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon in Sunday's 20-7 loss to the New York Giants, will make for a guessing game.
"Our game plan is to stay balanced between the pass and run," Gibbs said. "If we have more success one way, we would lean that way in the course of the game.
"I don't think we're going after a player. We'll go to the spot with the least coverage. Our patterns are full-field. Where the quarterback's read takes him is where he will go."
Whether Brown expects the Redskins to pick on him is not known. A fifth-round draft choice from Maryland who said Monday he was never a Redskin fan, Brown suddenly decided Wednesday that he wouldn't have anything else to say publicly this week.
Of course, Coryell and Gibbs, who were on the staff at San Diego State when many of the current generation of players were in diapers, know each other far too well to allow this week's game to pivot solely around the moods or weaknesses of a rookie cornerback.
Gibbs, it might be said, has his old mentor's number. More accurately, he has the number of the entire American Football Conference. The Redskins own an eight-game winning streak over AFC opponents that includes a 27-24 victory over the Chargers here in 1983. The Redskins have not lost a road game to an AFC team since 1981 at Buffalo.
The Redskins, who haven't been scored on in the fourth quarter in either of their games so far, defeated the Raiders, 10-6, Sunday.
"We got out of the gate pretty good, which gives us something to build on," said Schroeder, the National Football Conference's fourth-rated passer this week.
The Redskins lost two starters Sunday. Linebacker Mel Kaufman suffered the same fate as Walters, rupturing an Achilles' tendon, and running back Kelvin Bryant sprained a knee.
Kaufman was tied with Dave Butz as the team's No. 2 man in sacks with two, one behind Steve Hamilton.
Bryant, the former United States Football League, star, had caught 5 passes for 100 yards, rushed for 48 and scored 2 touchdowns.
"Losing Kelvin is a blow," Gibbs said. "He's a game-breaker. He had only touched the ball 15 or 16 times, but had already made five or six big plays."
Bryant will be replaced by Keith Griffin, who rushed for 473 yards last season. The main ground threat is George Rogers, who rushed for 1,093 yards.
Coryell indicated that he expects to see a lot of Rogers.
"Joe just believes in running the ball more than I do," Coryell said. "He had John Riggins (now retired) and he's had that big offensive line. Now he has Rogers."
Gibbs countered Coryell by noting that the Chargers held New York running back Joe Morris to 83 yards in 30 rushes Sunday. "That's better than we could do," Gibbs said in his best aw-shucks manner. "We're the underdog this week."