The 30-second clock was counting down inside 10 seconds as the rookie wide receiver dashed to the Redskin huddle with a play from the sidelines for quarterback Joe Theismann in the team's final preseason game against Atlanta.

"I'm standing there waiting for him, and he comes over and all he can say is, Uh, uh, uh,'" Theismann recalled yesterday. "I just said, 'Give me something, anything, a formation, a number, the time of day.' The poor kid finally said, 'Oh, jeez Joe, I forgot it.' So I got to call my own play."

In the games that count, Theismann is getting all his plays from offensive coordinator Joe Walton, the chain-smoking assistant coach who must go through four packs of cigarettes in four quarters.

Theismann insists, "Whatever they want to do is fine with me. I've called my own for seven years, but the system has worked out very well through the preseason and the first game. Mentally easier on the quarterback. But I still think you have to be as aware of the offense as when you call it yourself.

Theismann also bristles at the suggestion that Coach Jack Pardee decided to call the plays because he did not trust him to do it.

"I can't see where that holds any validity at all." Theismann said. "They did it from the first day of training camp with no one person in mind. They did it for both of us (he and Billy Kilmer). It's just a characteristic of their philosophy, that's all."

Pardee said yesterday he has been delighted with the results because "it's helped work our substitutions the way we want them . . . as well as letting Joe concentrate on executions and not worrying about calling the plays. I think he's responded well to it."

If Kilmer were the quarterback, would he continue the play-calling system, Pardee was asked?

"I really don't know," he said. "I'd have to think about it. We'd be ready either way."

Pardee says the signal-calling from the sideline has been particularly helpful to the running game. "There's really not too much trouble with the passing game because your quarterbacks read the coverages out on the field; they have to be able to do that.

"You got the edge in the running game - keeping up with the stunts, the slants, what all the ends are doing. There's really no way for the quarterbacks to keep tabs on it."

Up in the press box, assistant coaches George Dickson and Mike Faulkiner are doing that for him - charting opposition defenses, keeping track of slants, stunts, coverages and blitzes and looking for trends.

They are hooked up to Walton by telephone and the stream of talk between the field and press box hardly ever stops. "It is," Walton admitted, "a little nerve-wracking and it's a very pressurized situation. But I'm really enjoying it.

"Why do we do it? I think we're able to control the game by tendencies, by what we've planned during the week. For the coaches, it also makes it easier to know where certain breakdowns are occurring. If you don't know the play beforehand, you really can't tell who's not doing what they're supposed to do. This makes it easier to correct those mistakes on the field.

"I think it helps Joe out, too. It relieves some of the pressure of the game and allows him to work on mechanics, reading his keys, helping his setups. I really think it's helped him in all phases of the game."

It has also enabled the Redskins to utilize more personnel. Against the Patriots, wide receivers Ricky Thompson and Danny Buggs alternated bringing in the plays; three other players also acted as messengers.

"It's giving me more of a chance to play, I can't argue with that," said Thompson. "I stand right there by Coach Walton. He gives it to me and I take it on. Oh sure, you can forget. You're running out there, trying to remember the play and trying to remember what you're supposed to be doing. You just have to concentrate and think.

"I've only been here about two weeks, and I haven't even heard some of the plays they give me. I haven't completely forgotten, but I did get out there one time and all I could remember was the formation and one number. Joe was able to figure it out."

The run from sideline to huddle also is no piece of cake. "Sure it can tire you out. It's like running a play," Thompson said. "No, you don't go full speed, but with that 30-second clock going, you can't poke it out there, either."

Once Theismann gets the play, he can change the formation and, of course, he can call an audible at the line of scrimmage. Theismann called four audibles against the Patriots, including the dropped touchdown pass to Frank Grant in the end zone in the third quarter.

"Theoretically, I can audible on every play," Theismann said. "But I can tell you this: Joe Walton is one of the brightest offensive coaches I've ever worked for. He knows what he is doing out there. My head is still in the game, just like it always was. But this is a team game, and that's how we're approaching this."

Pardee said he will probably start Reggie Haynes again at tight end, although Jean Fugett should be available to play. "Jean's getting better (from a bruised knee)," Pardee said, "but he's still not able to do everything. Reggie will proabaly go most of the way" . . . Pardee also is taking a wait-and-see approach to middle linebacker Harold McClinton, hobbled by a calf strain. If McClinton can't play, rookie Don Hover will be used when the Redskins go into their 34 defense . . . John Riggins' 31-yard run around end late in the fourth quarter against the Patriots was his longest gain on the ground since he came to Washington in 1976 . . . His previous best was 15 yards . . . Because of a mistake in the original game statistics, the Redskins have been credited with five more yards rushing for a total of 149.