WASHINGTON — This is the time of year when the gleam invariably reappears in Bobby Beathard's eyes: the National Football League draft is about one month away, and he begins to zero in on which way to roll the dice. He becomes the scout on the lookout.
Beathard's job as Washington Redskins general manager is to collect talent, and now, more specifically, his job also is to figure out how to help a 14-5 Redskins team catch the world champion New York Giants.
"We're a good team," Beathard said during a break at the recent NFL owners meetings in Maui, Hawaii, "but we're still several levels below the Giants. We have to become more physical to play with them."
Beathard's modus operandi during his nine seasons with the Redskins has been one of dramatic action. He gets a conviction about certain players--a feeling measured not by stopwatch, scales or by computer permutations, but by his scouting instincts--then he makes his move to acquire those players.
This is the way Beathard views the Redskins, as they move forward into their 51st season:
--He wants Dave Butz, the unsigned defensive tackle who will turn 37 before next season, to return for a 15th NFL season in 1987. He said, "Dave had a pretty good season last year and there's no reason he can't come back and do it again."
Beathard also said that the return of all-pro defensive end Dexter Manley, who is undergoing treatment at the Hazelden Center in Center City, Minn., for what Manley's public relations aide called "an alcohol problem," is "something we'll have to wait and see what happens.
"We'll give Dexter support; I'd hate to see someone that talented throw it away," Beathard said.
--Jess Atkinson is the Redskins' No. 1 kicker entering training camp. Atkinson converted all six field goal tries after he joined the team late last season as a replacement for Max Zendejas, who went on the injured list. At present, Zendejas is expected to get an invitation to training camp.
Beathard said, "Right now, I'd say Jess will be our kicker. Kicking is tough, but my opinion is you want a kicker with a temperament like Jess has. He's tough and has a great amount of confidence. A lot of kickers can kick, but they get rattled when they miss. I don't think Jess will, although I don't know because he hasn't missed with us."
--The Redskins' top priority in the April 28 draft is to get a multipurpose linebacker, in part to help the run defense. The Redskins allowed 112 yards rushing per game in 1986, their highest total in five years. The Redskins have aged at linebacker--Neal Olkewicz, Rich Milot and Monte Coleman all are entering their ninth NFL season.
"We're looking for the guy who is not necessarily a specialist, but a guy who will stay in on all downs," said Beathard. He said three rookies who spent last season on injured reserve--Ravin Caldwell, Kurt Gouveia and Anthony Copeland--"are big guys, in the mold of the Giants' linebackers, and they look like they could move in and help us."
--For the first time since 1982-83, the offensive line needs more than minimal upgrading, particularly in run blocking. Depth is a concern, especially with the numerous injuries suffered in recent seasons by all-pro guard Russ Grimm.
Beathard said, "We have to give a lot of consideration to our offensive line-maybe even with our top pick."
The Redskins averaged just 108 yards rushing per game in 1986, their lowest total in any full season under Coach Joe Gibbs. The Redskins ran on just 45% of their offensive plays in 1986, markedly down from the run-'em-into-the-ground Super Bowl seasons of 1982 (when they ran on nearly 53% of all plays) and 1983 (nearly 56%).
"We had to go to the pass last year because the running game was not working," Beathard said. "We have a terrific weapon in Jay Schroeder and with our receivers. I'm not sure if the problem with our running game last year was with George Rogers (1,203 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns) or if it was with our offensive line.
"I know we have to improve the line. That, and to get (running back) Kelvin Bryant in an offseason weight program. Kelvin is such a competitor, but we need to get him stronger.
"Russ Grimm missed a lot of time last year, too. We need him to come back to his form of three years ago--in 1984."
The Redskins also will seek replenishment, Beathard said, at the cornerback spot opposite Darrell Green. "Darrell had a good year, but the other side was shaky," he said. "Tim Morrison blossomed some at the end of the year, but that's a position we're a little bothered about."
Beathard also said the Redskins are in search of a blocking tight end to replace reserve Anthony Jones, who suffered a severe knee injury against Denver late last season.
Whether Jones will be able to return next season is uncertain. "We need to find another tight end like (starter) Donnie Warren," Beathard said.