In the NFL these days, the significant news is being made by players often publicly regarded as insignificant. This is the time - here at the Redskins' camp and elsewhere - when the most valuable players are not the swiftest and the strongest but, simply, the ones not in the lineup at the moment.

Look beyond the headlines in Los Angeles and see the Rams clearly concerned that although they have Joe Namath, they possibly don't have the protection his gimpy knees require now that tackle Doug France has undergone knee surgery and center Rick Saul has retired.

In Dallas at the moment, the important knee is not Tony Dorsett's but Blaine Nye's. Sudenly, a team that seemed unbeatable just after the draft seems vulnerble, and even more so now that Randy White is switching positions once again.

When Wright underwent knee surgery, the Cowboys were confident he would be mended for the regular-season opener. Now they are "hopeful" he will be strong enough to regain his position by the third game, or two weeks before the semiannual war with the Redskins resumes.

Nye has managed to slip into retirement more quietly than he should. At least everyone assumes he has taken that nimble mind off to academia, because he would owe the Cowboys nearly $10,000 in absentee fines if he reported to camp tomorrow.

So, instead of two solid all-pros manning the right side of their offensive line, the Cowboys have the untested Pat Donovan and Burton Lawless. Once he overcome his own knee troubles, Dorsett may make both seem better than they are.

If every left defensive tackle in the world is happy to wish Nye good fortune in adding a doctorate to his two master's degrees (in business and physics), anyone who appreciates good cheer and candor in an athlete is selfishly sad.

Reporters learned that offensive linemen tended to be more articulate than runners, throwers, catchers and defenders about a decade ago; about five years ago they nominated Nye to their allquote team. Who needed Duane Thomas when Nye was just around the corner, third locker from the end?

"I'm like salt," he once said. "Nobody remembers the brand they buy."

He was cofounder of the Zero Club, three men dedicated to apathy, with the motto: "One for None and All for Naught."

Vintage Nye is a line that ought to be chiseled somewhere because it is so fundamental to professional sport. "It matters not who wins or loses," Nye once said, "but who gets the blame."

With the Redskins, the luckless fellow getting all the blame lately is Gerald Williams, the replacement for the Redskins' own most valuable player at the moment, the mouse that roars, Pat Fischer.

Until Fischer returns or Williams, or somebody, either fills the position or at least creates that illusion, the Redskins will be in even worse shape than the Cowboys without Nye and Wright or the Rams without France and Saul.

"Cornerback is the toughest position in foot- ball," said Bobby Mitchell, "because you've got the speed guys coming at you, and you've also got to get in there and mix it up with the big guys."

And Fischer, the offseason banker who is smaller even than most bankers, does this exquisitely. When he is absent, more than cornerback suffers.

"When Pat's back there," said linebacker Brad Dusek, "he more or less plays on me. If I'm inside, he's outside. With Gerard, who's inexperienced, where he possibly should be at times."

Or as one insider put it: "They tell Brad what to do and then Pat gets him in a game and says, 'Hey, you do it my way'."

Whatever, Williams - and even Fischer if he returns - will feel like a duck the first day of hunting season. And the only way to divert attention back to Jack Lavender, last season's target, is for somebody to grab a few interceptions.

"Every cornerback has to get beat a few times," said Mitchell. "I remember being a receiver when Fischer was just breaking in. At first, I used to kill him. Then I'd just half-kill him. And then I couldn't do anything against him."

His teammates realizes Fischer's tough talk about overcoming back problems once again ought not to be taken lightly. He has done more with less than perhaps any NFL player ever.

"You think I'm crazy on the field," said Rusty Tillman. "You ought to see 'The Mouse.' You know that stuff receivers use on their hands, Stickum? Well, Pat chews it. And you talk to him during a game.

"He'll come off the field and go to his little area on the bench. You don't know what he's doing - gathering his thoughts or whatever - but if you start to talk to him he'll bite your hand off."

Teammates chuckle when they recall the taunts Fischer throws at wide receivers, especially the Eagles' Harold Carmichael, who is merely a foot taller. Dusek remembers spraining his ankle last season in the final moments against the Lions and hearing Fischer scream at him for limping off the field instead of staying in the game.

"The Mouse is something else," Dusek said. "You don't take his cheese or he'll get mad."