The big back with the curly hair and the scaggily beard-looped out of the backfield, juked a linebacker out of position and cut down the middle of the field, moving easily to the pass he caught for a 20-yard gain.

"Nice move, Johnny Riggins," Redskin assistant coach Joe Walton bellowed, a large smile spreading across his face. "First one of the year and looking good."

John Riggins was smiling, too, yesterday at Redskin Park. He had travelled, somewhat reluctantly, from his home in Lawrence, Kan., to attend a mini-camp for free agents and injured veterans off the 1977 team.

"It does seem kind of odd (his being in Washington)," Riggins groused. "Here I am the highest paid player working out with the free agents. I'm not the kind of guy who volunteers for extra work."

But Jack Pardee wanted him to attend to see what sort of progress Riggins had made after tearing ligaments in his right knee last season against Dallas in the fifth game of the year, an injury that knocked Riggins out for the season.

Yesterday, Pardee had his answer.

"For all practical purposes, I can't even tell that I was injured last year," Riggins said after an hour-long workout, his first time on a football field since that day in Dallas when he thought his career had ended.

Now, Riggins said, "it looks like I've got a new lease on life. The knee feels normal. I don't feel concerned about it at all. I don't even wrap it up or tape it. And right now, I feel better than I ever have at this time of year and that goes all the way back to high school and college. I feel 100 percent rehabilitated.

Pardee clearly felt relieved after watching Riggins yesterday. And when the big back asked the new head coach for permission to skip the rest of the three-day mini-camp, Pardee gave his blessing to a quick flight back to Kansas.

"I was awfully pleased with John Riggins," Pardee said during a lunch break between sessions. "We wanted to bring him in to make sure he's where we want him to be. I didn't see him subconciously favoring his leg.

"We weren't sure at first if we would work him at all. But you can't tell much by watching a guy do sprints or laps around the track. I don't know any better way to do it than to see how he reacts on the field. He feels comfortable with it now."

A healthy Riggins is vitally important to the Redskins offense, and Pardee has said often he plans to give the ball to his fullback far more frequently than he got it the past two seasons.

"I think I'll be given a better chance from the past couple of years," Riggins said, "particularly with Joe Walton in charge of the offense. He knows what it takes for backs to be effective. It's an understatement for me to say that I'm looking forward to the season.

Riggins insisted that he was not at all perturbed that the Redskins tried to obtain Cardinal fullback Jim Otis, just a bit surprised.

"If my leg doesn't work out, they have to have somebody ready to play," he said. "But Jim Otis isn't my idea of the fella who could replace me if what they have in mind for the fullback is what I've been told.

"They're going to run the fullback outside and use him quite a bit. I don't see Otis filling that bill. I was surprised they tried to get a fullback who was that slow. Actually, it'd be nice if they got a guy like Franco Harris in here for some competition."

Other than Riggins, there were few familiar faces at Redskin Park yesterday as Pardee and his staff made their on-the-field coaching debut. Both Billy Kilmer and Joe Theismann were absent with permission, and Scott Gardner was the only quarterback available.

There were 45 players on hand for the drills, all sporting the new-look face masks - a loud burgundy as opposed to last year's drab gray - the Redskins will use this fall.

Pardee, dressed in burgundy shorts, a white polo shirt and a Redskin cap, spent most of his day working with the linebackers and other defensive players.His drills were not all that different from those employed by George Allen, nor is at least one manerism. Pardee, like Allen, is a habitual finger licker.

Larry Schreiber, a seven-year veteran running back who spent last season on the Bears' injured reserve list, may sign with the Redskin if he has healed sufficiently from a hamstring injury . . . Mike Horton, a 6-foot-3, 259-pound guard from UCLA, signed as a free agent yesterday and worked out with the team . . .

Four players, all free agents, flunked physicals. Tight end Fred Coleman and safety Rod Overholt were asked to come back and take the exam again next month. Linebacker Carl Russ and defensive end Curtis Kirkland were waived . . . Pardee said a four-day mini-camp for all veterans will start May 18.