Running back Mike Thomas, still limping slightly because of sore hamstring muscles in both legs, nevertheless will get his first start of the preseason Sunday against the New England Patriots at 2 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7).

"The only way he's going to get ready is to play, otherwise he'll never be ready," coach George Allen said after a 90-minute workout today at Redskin Park. Thomas did not participate in the final 30 minutes after pulling up lame catching a long touchdown pass in a routine drill, but Allen left no question that Thomas would work on Sunday.

"He's got to get in shape. I'm not going to be worried about him. that's his responsibility to the team. We're getting down to the home stretch now, He's a good player, we need him and he wants to play. He just has to gut it out."

Thomas said today he is suffering from what he described as cramps in his hamstring muscles. "I'm going to play if I can, but if I can't," he said.

"I'd like to play a quarter. If he (Allen) wants me to play more, I will. It's a little different running on artificial turf (in Foxboro's Schaefef Stadium). You get better footing, but it puts more strain on your legs.

"But I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a big test for our offense because they've got a fine defensive team. This game is going to tell us some things. I think we're going to have a great offensive team this year, and I hope we can show some of it Sunday."

The Redskins, now 3-1 in the preseasons, will be facing their sternest test in all phases of the game against a New England team that has also won three of four and has limited opponents to just 37 points and a 29-yard average gain per offensive play.

"No question, it's the best offensive and defensive team we've played," Allen said. "I'm looking for consistency all the way around, that's what we haven't had. It will be a test for our offense to more the ball on the ground and in the air, and for our defense to stop their running game primarily."

Allen, as sual, will be watching the performance of left cornerback Gerard William, who has the opportunity Sunday to demonstrate once and for all that he can play the position regularly if Pat Fischer can not come back.

"Every week is a test for Gerard," Allen said. "He'll get more work on forcing the run this week, and that's good."

Safety Ken Houston also is going to get his first opportunity to call defensive signals under game conditions because linebacker Chris Hanburger is still recovering from an emergency appendectomy at Arlington Hospital.

Allen may give Houston, his veteran strong safety, a bit of help "if he needs it. We have signs we can give him, holding up a hand, things like that, I don't think we'll have to use them much. We had Kenny working on this last year. We're always prepared for something like this."

Stu O'Dell will take Hanburger's place in the starting lineup at right linebacker, and Allen said he was not all that concerned.

"Stu will make mistakes," he said, "but it won't bother me. He'll over run some things and get fooled every once in awhile, but he'll hustle and he'll hit. I've played him more this preseason than ever, so he's not an embryo. He'll be all right."

"I'm fired up," O'Dell said after practice. "I fell better about it today than I did when I heard about Chris. I'm setting down with everybody. We're doing the same things we've always been doing.

"I'm not looking for a game ball. I'm looking to do a good job. Of course if it's there (the game ball), I'll take it. But I'm certainly not worried about playing the positio. I'm looking forward to it."

Also on Allen's checklist Sunday will be the elimination of costly penalties - the Redskins have averaged over 100 yards in violations their first four games - and more improvement in a pass rush that seems to get better every week with the insertion of second-year man Karl Lorch into the lineup.

The Redskins also have only managed to score six touchdowns in the preseason, and Allen would like to see several more sustained offensive drives and fewer Joe Theismann interceptions (he has five).

Allen said today he planned to start Billy Kilmer at quarterback and use him for a quarter and one or two more series before bringing in Theismann to finish up. Brian Dowling, who once played for the Patriots, will not see action, Allen said.

New England has sputtered frequently on offense this preseasons, as well. Quarterback Stever Grogan, who will play at least a half today, has completed only 37 per cent of his passes and has tosted up nine of the Patriots 10 interceptions.

The Patriots went into overtime to defeat the Steelers, 13-10, last Sunday, and have been terribly stingy to opposition offenses all preseason long. They are allowing only 155 yards of total offense per game, and only 61 passing yards per outing.

The Patriots also have a potent kicking game. Placekicker John Smith has hit eight of his nine field goat attempts, and punter Mike Patrick has a 39-yard average, with four of his kicks rolling out of bounds inside the 20.

Two rookies have led the Patriots in returning kicks. Stanley Morgan, a wide receiver from Tennessee, has averaged 13 yards per punt return and has a 62-yard touchdown to his credit.Raymond Clayborn, a cornerback from Texas, is averaging 42 yards on four kickoffs returns, with an 88-yard touchdown run.

A number of Redskin rookies will also be seeking to make an impression on the special teams today because Allen must cut four more players by 4 p.m. Tuesday to reach 48 players. He must go to 45 by Sept. 12.

Among those who will have some difficulty sleeping the next few days are safety Mark Murphy, cornerback Skip Sharp, wide receiver Kevin Farrell, fullback Beggie Haynes, defensive end Duncan McColl, tackle Mike Hughes, tight end Bill Larson and linebacker Joe Harris.