Jean Fugett was still limping on his bruised left knee yesterday, but the Redskins say they are optimistic he can return to practice by the middle of the week and play Sunday in Washington's regular-season opener against the New England Patriots.

Fugett was injured against the Baltimore Colts 10 days ago, missed practice last week and did not play Friday in the preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons.

Trainer Bubba Tyer indicated yesterday, however, that "we're optimistic that he can play," Tyser said Fugett was improving daily and would be examined again early this week by team physician Stanford Lavine.

Fugett most likely will be listed as questionable for action in the Redskins' injury report to the league office tomorrow, but the Pro Bowl tight end said yesterday. "If I can do any kind of work by Wednesday, I should be able to play on Sunday if they want me to.

"Sure I want to play. I'm a football player. I'm just glad the preseason is over. I hate the preseason. The games don't mean anything, it doesn't mean a thing if you're 4-0 or you're 0-4 as far as getting a playoff check.

"I feel like I'm making progress definitely. It (the knee) is a lot better than it was last week. I'm fairly close to having full flexibility. When I first got hurt, I couldn't straighten the leg at all.

"Two years ago my leg was in a cast for two weeks. It came out on a Wednesday and I played in a Monday night game in St. Louis against the Cardinals. This injury isn't as bad as that one."

Fugett's back-up, veteran Jim Mandich, sprained an ankle against the Colts, missed last week's practices and the Falcon game. Tyer said Mandich also was making good progress and should be available against the Patriots.

There also was more good news on Joe Theismann's condition.Though the quarterback said his left knee was still very sore, there was no swelling in the joint and Theismann said he expected to work out today.

While the trainers were nursing the physical problems, the Redskin coaching staff spent most of yesterday preparing for a Patriot team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

Offensive coordinator Joe Walton was particularly concerned with the decline of the running attack the last two preseason games.

The Redskins managed only 87 yards, for a 2.9-yard-per-carry average, against the Colts and 55 yards and a 2.0-yard average against the Falcons.

For the preseason, Washington average 3.7 yards a rush, a figure swelled by Theismann's nine-yard average scrambling.Starting backs John Riggins and Mike Thomas managed only 2.4 and 2-6 yards per carry, respectively.

"Sure I'm concerned," Walton said. "We've just got to get better execution and more determination by the backs and the blocking backs. "We've got to get more intense all the way around.

"One of the reasons Clarence Harmon (five yards per carry) has looked so good is because he didn't miss any work in the preseason. Mike was sick and missed a couple of weeks. John missed time, I think they need a little more concentrated work in reading their holes and being more aggressive.

"But I'm certain it can be worked out. We also played a pretty good defensive team. And we'll see that again Sunday in New England."

Center Len Hauss said he had no comment concerning Coach Jack Pardee's inclination to start Bob Kuziel at center at New England. "What can I say?" he asked. "I only work here." . . . Defensive tackle Dave Butz and guard Dan Nugent were limping on bruised heels: guard Ron Saul had a mildly strained hamstring and safety Mark Murphy a bruised knee after the Falcon game. All should be available against New England.