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Schroeder's Passing Slump Has Redskins Concerned

November 15, 1987|WILL DUNHAM | United Press International

WASHINGTON — The brand new "Jay Schroeder's All-Pro Restaurant" sits proudly in the Willston shopping center in suburban Virginia, neatly tucked next to a video rental store along busy Rt. 50.

Like many high-profile athletes, the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback decided to cash in on his name. After all, a professional football career doesn't last forever. And, oh, by the way, his predecessor, Joe Theismann, has his own restaturant just up Rt. 7 a few miles.

But these haven't been happy days for the new restaurateur.

He lost about $250,000 from his new million-dollar-a-year contract during the 24-day NFL players' strike. He reportedly was shouted down by teammates in a closed-doors meeting for staying in contact with Coach Joe Gibbs during the strike.

And, most disturbingly to Schroeder and the Redskins, on the field he has been awful this season. The cool, self-assured man who guided the Redskins to the conference title game and earned a Pro Bowl spot in his first full season as starter last season has not been seen.

And for the first time since he took over as Redskins starter after Theismann's career-ending leg injury on Nov. 18, 1985, Schroeder faces the possibility of being benched--a slight possibility, however, based on Gibbs' history of fierce loyalty to his starting quarterbacks.

Schroeder knows there is no such thing as job security in the NFL.

"If I don't perform, I don't care who it is, sooner or later I'm not going to play," Schroeder said.

Schroeder said he is not burdened by his new-found celebrity in the football-mad nation's capital and is not overextended with the new restaurant, new commercial endorsements and a heavy load of charity work.

"I'm doing everything exactly like I have the last two years," he said. "Nothing has changed."

It didn't help that Schroeder sustained a sprained right shoulder in the first quarter of the season-opener against Philadelphia after a jarring hit by all-pro Eagle lineman Reggie White, an injury that kept him out of action for five weeks.

"Going into this year, I didn't plan on getting hurt or going on strike. But they are just things that happen. This has not been a normal year," Schroeder said. "I tried to rush myself back to be ready to play. Whether I went too fast, I don't know. It could be a little rustiness. We were off four weeks (with the strike) and then came right back in."

Schroeder, a former UCLA quarterback, suffered through the worst game in his four NFL seasons Nov. 8 in a 31-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, completing a miserable 16 of 46 passes, throwing two interceptions and overthrowing receivers downfield nine times.

To make matters worse, Redskin assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell said in a televised interview that some of Schroeder's teammates "were standing behind the coach and saying, 'Are we going to lose this or are we going to put Doug (Williams) in?' " Mitchell later said the incident was "no big deal," but refused to identify the players.

Gibbs, who has worked with such quarterbacks as Theismann, San Diego's Dan Fouts and St. Louis' retired Jim Hart, is clearly worried. He said Schroeder's mechanics are good and his decisions sound, but he just isn't hitting open receivers.

"I think right now it's accuracy," Gibbs said. "He's not throwing the percent he did last year. Why? I think obviously being hurt has knocked off a lot of the timing we had in camp and I think, obviously, the strike prolonged that."

The theories for Schroeder's slump are as plentiful as his bad passes: the strike, the injury, complacency because of the fat contract (a reported 3-year, $3 million pact) and an aversion to being hit (Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor's pet theory, which Schroeder says has "no merit"). Or, perhaps, last season was an aberration and Schroeder is neither as good as he looked then nor as bad as he looks now.

It seems rather unlikely that Schroeder will be benched, considering Gibbs' track record. A conversation between Gibbs and Schroeder in October 1985 sheds some light on the coach's thoughts on quarterback changes.

Theismann had been struggling that season, showing signs of age for the first time in his career, when Gibbs summoned Schroeder into his office at Redskin Park. Gibbs told his young, raw quarterback-of-the-future that he would stay with Theismann out of allegiance to the accomplished veteran despite the slump and added that someday in the future he would do the same thing for Schroeder.

"My philosophy has not changed," Gibbs said. "I think sometimes it's awful easy to emotionally say, 'Look, let's get a scapegoat here. Who's the one? Well, the quarterback missed some passes, let's grab him.' But I don't feel that way."

"I've had real confidence in Jay and I kind of go on what's happened in the past and I have confidence he's going to bail us out."

What complicates the decision, however, is the presence of a talented backup in Doug Williams, the seventh-year NFL veteran and two-year USFL veteran who nearly single-handedly led a poor Tampa Bay Buaccaneers team to the playoffs three times and all the way to the NFC title game in 1979.

Gibbs would not completely rule out a quarterback change if Schroeder continued to struggle, but said Schroeder would start Sunday against the Detroit Lions at RFK Stadium.

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