The new punter had just come into camp, halfway through rookie week, and as he prepared to kick for the first time, several Redskin scouts stood on the sidelines with their stopwatches poised.

The first kick traveled 45 yards and the clocks said the ball hung in the air 4.5 seconds. And then it happened. The new man kicked stepped up again and this time kicked the ball so hard his grunt could be heard 50 yards away. This time, the ball spialed even higher and farther - 60 yards on the fly and 5.3 seconds in the air.

It was a great kick, and the kibitzers on the sidelines all seemed properly impressed. But then, a veteran Redskin special-team man turned and said. "Hey, they all look great the first day. Let's see how he looks in a month."

Well, Merritt Kersey, the new punter, is still booming the ball high and far. Most of the time. And Mike Bragg, the Redskins' old and dependable punter, has also been properly impressed but certainly not awed.

"He's probably the best one they've brought in the last five years," Bragg said today. "He's got a strong leg and he's a fine athlete. But I don't worry about things like that. Yes, I'm competing with him, but all I worry about is my job, getting myself in the right rhythm.

Every year the Redskins bring in a fresh leg, a new "hang-em-high" stud, and every year for the past 10. Mike Bragg had remained the Redskin kicker in residence. There is nothing terribly flashy about the man his teammates call "Gump." There is simply an amazing consistency.

Last season, one that he calls "average to medicore." Bragg averaged 38.9 yards per punt, 14th in the NFL, and his net - average punt minus the average yards returned - of 32.9 yards was 10th in the league.

The Redskins were also eighth in the number of yards allowed per punt return - 3.5. That was less than a yard behind the league-leading Pittsburgh punt-coverage team, which held opponents to 2.7 yards per return.

"I just did not hit the ball as well as I did in 1975," said Bragg, who led the league in net punting the previous year. "I was in a groove two years ago where I could feel that every punt was going long and high. It's like when you're standing over a putt in golf and you just know every break in that green and you know it's going in."

Special-teams coach Paul Lanham said Bragg had several minor breakdowns in fundamentals last year. "His steps were a little off and his drop was a little inconsistent," Lanham said. "And we also played quite a bit in bad weather, and that had some effect."

Lanham also made up a special horror film for Bragg this season - a real showing all his rotten kicks over the last five years. "There were about 20 of them," Bragg said, "and I remember all of 'em. I had nightmares the night after I watched it the first time, but on every kick I could see exactly what I had done wrong."

This season, Bragg has himself another goal. He would like to kick every punt between 40 and 50 yards with an average hang-time of 4.5 seconds. "That's the key to good punting," he said. "No boomers and no shanks, just being consistent.

"If you're not, you never know when you'll hit that 25-yarder that will put your team in the hole."

Consistency has always been Kersey's problem. He spent a full season in Philadelphia before being released after 10 games in 1975. He has punted 97 times in the NFL, with a 35.5-yard verage.

"Mike has to be considered ahead right now because he's the incumbent and Kersey has to take the job away from him," Lanham said today. "It's Mike's job until another guy proves he's better.

"Kersey's got to do two things to be our punter. He's got to prove he can do it under pressure, and he has to prove he can do it consistently. Kersey has a strong leg, he gets it high and long and he's got experience kicking in the league.

"Mike's strong points are his performance over the years. He's always been consistent under pressure and there aren't any weakness in his kicking game. He's also getting better every year in kicking the ball to the corners and out of bounds.

"It's something he had to learn all over when they changed the rules a couple of years ago."

So why would Kersey even bother to challenge a man considered among the top fives punters in the league by most of his peers?

For one, he says, he has been a life-long fan of the Redskins. He was born in Alexandria, raised in Richmond and, "I've been a real big fan of this team my whole life. It's like a dream to be here," he said.

"I've never been intimidated by the competition. I just feel I have the ability and the raw talent. Somebody has to help me channel it into a consistent performance."

Kersey's career took a turn for the worse his second year in Philadelphia. He broke his hand making a tackle on a return, sat out the rest of the season on injured reserve and then was released. He failed to make it in Buffalo last year, and sat out the season teaching art and physical education at a school for juvenile delinquents in West Chester, Pa.

"In Philadelphia, they used me at running back, too, and I never really concentrated on being a punter," he said. "That's what I'm doing here. This is how I've got to make it in this league. So I'm working hard and getting a lot of help from coach Lanham and Mike, too. I just need a chance."