Rusty Tillman, the captain and self-proclaimed king of the Redskin special teams, probably will need surgery to repair a torn cartilage in his right knee and may be lost to the team for the early portion of the regular season.

With the team already reeling from the trade of return specialist Eddie Brown to the Los Angeles Rams, the loss of Tillman for possibly four to six weeks was another staggering blow to the team's kicking units. Tillman played on the special teams and, as teammate Dallas Hickman said, "He was like a player-coach."

Tillman said last night the originally hurt the knee in practice two weeks ago, that it got progressively worse and that "playing against the Vikings just finished it off."

Tillman did not participate in workouts Tuesday and underwent an arthrogram examination in Charlisle Hospital yesterday that revealed the torn cartilage.

Tillman will be examined today in Washington by team physician Stanford Lavine, who will make the final decision on whether surgery is necessary. Tillman said last night he thought that was the only remedy to the problem. Pardee agree.

"It's just not comfortable to play with and it will probably require surgery." Pardee said. With a cartilage, sometimes it's a month, sometimes it's two months (to recover). I don't know what we're going to do with him right now.

"We're under no numbers deadline right now (the Redskins must cut down to 60 by Aug. 15 and 45 by the reglar season opener). If the doctor says there's a chance of bringing him back in a month, well, out of a 16-game schedule, if he was going to miss a game, we'd count him the whole way.

"If it's two months, that might not be the case. But we don't have to make a decision on Rusty for three or four weeks until the final cutdown."

Tillman seemed almost philsophical about the injury. "If it had to happen," he said, "I guess this was the best time for it. They say you can get back in four to six weeks, so I'd only miss two or three games at the most.

"It's better that it happened now, while there's still time to come back. These things aren't that serious."

"No, I am not counting myself out," Tillman went on. "It depends on how much muscle tissue they have to cut through to get to it. I've seen guys come back in three or four weeks and I've seen it take two months.

"I would definitely like to help them out with the teams while I'm rehabilitating. I will help them out. I'll do whatever I can do to contribute in some way.

"I don't feel real good about this, I was excited about playing for Jack and I think we're going to have a part of it. I'll just make the best of it and try to come back as fast as I can."

Nevertheless, Pardee was clearly distressed. "Rusty's been so important to the social teams, you just hate to see it happen," he said.

Tillman had also been playing as a reserve middle linebacker and was seeing some action in the team's now 34 defense, but Redskins have eight other linebackers, and his loss will not be felt too badly on defense.

Pardee said rookie Don Hover, the team's eighth-round draft choice from Washington State, will work at most of Tillman's positions on the special teams.

But most of his teammates were saying yesterday that no one could replace Tillman in making tackles or busting wedges with the totally reckless disregard for his body that he has exhibited as the Redskins' premier specialist over the last nine seasons.

"First Eddie, now Rusty, that's 50 percent of our effectiveness gone," said linebacker Pete Wysocki. "You don't ever replace people like that. The rest of us just have to take up the slack."