Left cornerback Pat Fischer, who early in the preseason had a pinched nerve in his back that most Redskin officials thought would end his career, practiced with the first unit yesterday and is expected to start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Coach George Allen said , "It is too early to tell" whether Fischer would start. Other team sources said the decision had been made and only a relapse by the 17-year veteran would keep him from starting the home opener.

Gerard Williams, the second-year man who has been filling in for Fischer, came down with a minor muscle pull in his lower back yesterday and missed most of practice. Allen cited that as the reason Fischer worked the whole practice with the first unit.

But, there were other signs Allen already had made up his mind.

Williams was back on the punt and punt-return special teams yesterday. Starters do not play on the special squads on Allen teams: Williams did not play on the special teams in the loss to the New York Giants.

A week ago Allen said he would use Fischer against the Giants only in an emergency and Fischer was listed as doubtful in the official injury report sent ot the league. Fischer was not listed on yesterday's report to NFL headquarters.

Both team officials and medical personnel had earlier expressed doubts the feisty 5-foot-9 Fischer would be able to resume playing. Consequently, there were numerous trade rumors following Fischer's hospitalization prior to the first exhibition game (although the Redskins expect Williams to become a top cornerback with time).

But, sources said, Allen held off making a trade for an experienced cornerback because, they said, that would have been an indication to Fischer that Allen had given up on his chances for recovery.

"About a month ago, may be six weeks, I didn't give him any chance of returning," said Ralph Hawkins, the defensive backfield coach. "He's an amazing guy, an amazing competitor. There are not too many left like him."

For defensive end Ron McDole, a teammate of Fischer's two decades See REDSKINS, D5, Col. 4> braska, where they both played offense, this latest comeback is nothing new.

McDole recalled that Fischer, then a quarterback, missed his freshman season with mononucleosis and a bad back.

But Fischer recovered in time for his sophomore season's opener against Penn State. Fischer took the opening kickoff and returned it for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, the first major Redskin drill for the Atlanta game was a spirited affair, even causing Allen to sound pleased in his postpractice press conference:

"We had a very good practice; we made very few mistakes and we were spirited. And we also had some fun - that's a good sign. You're got a lot of guys who have character and you have a lot of quality people. That's what it takes to win; it's more important than offense and defense."

To rookie safety Markthere was a marked difference between yesterday's practice and those last week prior to the opener.

"There was more concentration more intensity and less chatter," said Murphy.

"It was better," said starting tackle Tim Stokes."People are a little more serious this week."

Linebacker Chris Hanburger, who suffered complications following a Sept. 1 appendectomy, was released yesterday from Arlington Hospital after being readmitted 11 days ago . . . Guard Terry Hermeling (flu) is expected to be released from the same hospital this morning. He also strained his right knee against the Giants and is listed as questionable for the Falcon game , which means he has a 50-50 chance of playing . . . Tackle George Starke, who missed practice one day last week in a contract dispute, said he has yet to sign a new contract . . . Tight end Jean Fugett had a sore right eye following practice, the result of being poked by linebacker Mike Curtis during drills . . . kicker Mark Moseley has designed a portable goal post for increasing his accuracy. Instead ofthe normal 18 feet, the crossbar is only 10 feet wide. Tommy McVean's equipment crew built the goal post and it was used yesterday for the first time.

McDole (dislocated right elbow), special te(sprained ankle) are still listed as probable for the Falcon game . . . Allen, however, said following practice that he doubted McDole could play. McDole took part in some drills and was replaced by karl Lorch in others.