Pro Football : Questions About Raiders, Rams and Redskins

It wasn't so long ago that National Football League players were scoring touchdowns early and often in Super Bowl XXII. And now already, here they come again.

Lining up for another season of exhibition football, the pros will be back this weekend.

The openers are Saturday in Canton, Ohio, where the Rams will play the Cincinnati Bengals in the Hall of Fame game, and Sunday in London, where the Miami Dolphins will play the San Francisco 49ers.

Nationally, of the three principal questions that have come up, two involve the unexpected but celebrated Los Angeles losers of last season, the 5-10 Raiders and the 6-9 Rams.

Fans, coaches and players want to know:

--Can the Raiders become the first 10-man NFL team to reach the playoffs? Their quarterback problem today appears to be the most serious in the league.

--Can the Rams become the passing team they have set out to be? Always before, they have tried to be a running team under Coach John Robinson. Can an NFL contender change philosophies and win?

--Can the Washington Redskins become the first team since the 1978 and '79 Pittsburgh Steelers to win successive Super Bowl games?

No man has the Raider answer yet, nor the Ram answer, but almost everyone has a thought on the Redskins.

Speaking this week for the majority, Art Modell, president of the Cleveland Browns, said: "The Redskins will find that it was easier to get there than stay there.

"Some great teams--the Raiders, 49ers, Bears and Giants--couldn't (repeat in the 1980s) and the Redskins couldn't do it the last time (in 1983). It isn't impossible--but there are just too many other good teams today."

Making a similar point, Washington General Manager Bobby Beathard said: "We're better this season, but so is our competition."

One thing that worries the competition, though: No Redskin rival has their balance of strengths--on offense with quarterback Doug Williams, on defense with WilberMarshall, their new All-Pro from the Bears, on the sideline with Coach Joe Gibbs, and in the front office with Beathard.

Sunday's third annual American Bowl, between the 49ers and the Dolphins at London's Wembley Stadium, will be only the first of three NFL exhibitions on foreign fields this summer.

Joe Montana, the early winner of the 49er quarterback race against Steve Young, got the vote of the only voter who counts, Coach Bill Walsh.

Before leaving for London this week, Walsh, whose team was first in NFL offense last season, first in defense and 13-2 in the standings, said: "I would like to think that all of our positions are competitive, but there are a few I feel are safe.

"They are (the entire backfield of) Joe Montana, Roger Craig and Tom Rathman, (and) wide receiver Jerry Rice, tight end John Frank, tackle Harris Barton, center Randy Cross and linebacker Charles Haley."

The league's other foreign games this summer:

--At Goteborg, Sweden, Sunday, Aug. 14: Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings in the NFL's first appearance in continental Europe. The game will commemorate the 350th anniversary of the year that the first Swedish immigrants settled in the United States.

--At Montreal, Thursday, Aug. 18: Cleveland Browns vs. New York Jets in the NFL's 11th Canadian exhibition game.

During the 58-game exhibition schedule leading up to the regular-season openers Sept. 4, the Browns will be among the most closely watched NFL teams.

After losing to the Denver Broncos twice in close conference championship games, the Browns have emerged as almost everyone's AFC choice this year.

"We'll be out to do it with (quarterback) Bernie Kosar and defense," Modell said. "You know we drafted three defensive guys first, starting with (unsigned Florida linebacker) Clifford Charlton."

Defensive coordinator Dave Adolph is on his own at Cleveland this season, succeeding Marty Schottenheimer, the head coach who is now doubling as offensive coordinator in the absence of Lindy Infante. Infante, the new Green Bay coach, is evaluating six quarterbacks there, Marc Wilson among them.

The NFL's other new coach is the Raiders' Mike Shanahan.

Modell sees another Denver-Cleveland title game. "Tony Dorsett will help Denver's running game, this year at least," he said.

NFL Notes

Other prime questions of the exhibition season: After eliminating the 49ers last winter, are the Minnesota Vikings for real? Is it true that Green Bay only needed a coach? Can the 1986 champion New York Giants pull out of their 1987 slump? Will the Philadelphia Eagles start moving up under Coach Buddy Ryan? . . . One more Ram question: Can an NFL defense prosper with a 232-pound nose tackle--or can Mark Jerue put on some weight?

Before Saturday's game in Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct Canton native Alan Page, who was the NFL's player of the year with Minnesota in 1971, and three tough guys from the steel towns of western Pennsylvania--former Raider Fred Biletnikoff, former Steeler Jack Ham and former Bear Mike Ditka, now the Bear coach. . . . Owner Al Davis, who has been asked to present every Raider ever honored at Canton, will introduce Biletnikoff. By contrast, Ham has asked his college coach, Joe Paterno, to present him.

John Robinson is the only Ram coach who ever lasted into a sixth season, either here or when the club was in Cleveland. . . . Starting his 29th year at Dallas, Tom Landry has tied the longevity record of Curly Lambeau, who in 1949 at Green Bay became the only NFL coach to last that long, continuously, with one team. George Halas coached the Chicago Bears for 40 years in four 10-year bites.

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