When All-Pro safety Ken Houston broke into professional football in 1967 with the Houston Oilers of the old American Football League, "everything was legal" in terms of what a defender could do to to a potential pass receiver.

It isn't that way anymore.

Through a series of NFL, rule changes the past few seasons, the potential pass receiver has become perhaps the most protected player on the football field, even more so than the quarterback.

What a defender can do to a receiver has gone from practically everything to almost nothing.

The rules have gone from no "axing" to no "bump and run" to one bump beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage but an unlimited number within five yards to what we have now - one bump, or chuck, within five yards of the line of scrimmage and no other contact, except incidential contact, after that.

What the rule accomplishes is to allow receivers to run free all over the field without fear of getting knocked around.

"Intimidation is a big part of defense and the rule takes a lot of the intimidation away," said Richie Petitbon, who coaches the Redskin secondary.

The rule was put in to allow the tight ends to get more involved in the offense.In previous seasons, defenses were pounding them at the line of scrimmage.

Petitbon noted, "It has affected the outside people more."

Once timid wide receivers, who crept into the secondary looking over their shoulders and from side to side for headhunters, now often blaze downfield throwing caution to the wind.

"A lot of guys are still ducking from instinct," Redskin defender Houston said, "but once they get used to the fact that they aren't going to get hit, there will be a lot more points scored."

So teams will be forced to change their defenses.

"The new rule makes it tough to play zone defense because you can't hit anybody past five yards of the line," Petitbon said. "And you can't play a good zone defense by letting people cut across the middle and go from one zone to another without getting hit.

"The rule will force you to go man to man more, so it is the good zone defense teams that are going to be hurt more than the others."

"We're fortunate here because our people cover man to man real well. I think our secondary is the best in football but it would be even better without the new rule."

One Redskin cornerback, Joe Lavender, stands 6-4 and is a former basketball player; Houston is also 6-4 and the other cornerback, Lemar Parrish, is nicknamed Leapin' Lemar because he jumps so high. The other safety, Jake Scott, is not as big as Houston or Lavender and doesn't jump like Parrish, but anticipates well.

Height, jumping ability and anticipation are skills usually assocaited with basketball, and with the new chucking rule, the game in the secondary is indeed a lot like basketball.

"Sure it is," said Petition. "You have to play position and give them (the offense) the right of way. You can't reroute the receivers and make them go where they don't want to go. And it's not real clear what incidental contact is, just like in basketball. It isn't black and white. There's a gray area in there and that puts too much power in the hands of the officials."

"What it boils down to is that the receiver-defender game becomes more of a one-on-one, man-to-man contest and the best individual athlete is the one who usually is going to win. The weaker defender can't even the odds with a foreman smash. That suits the Redskins.

"I haven't changed my style because I've always been a finesse player," said Parrish. "I always try to outfinesse my opponent and to outposition him. The rule hurts a little bit, but in just shouldn't affect us that much.

"A lot of guys have to bang and use their hands a lot, but our secondary doesn't.A lot of what we do is based on position and we have all had a lot of experience playing man-to-man," Parrish said.

Another reason a zone defense loses some effectiveness with the revised chucking rule has to do with the fact that much of a zone's appeal lies in the way it confuses the quarterback.

Most of that confusion is lost when the defense rolls up to hit a receiver before he gets five yarfs off the line. That means the defense has to commit itself much sooner that it would like.

The illegal chuck has been called against the Redskins once this season, in the New England game against Parrish.

Parrish said he just held in his ground against the Patriot receiver "and he ran me down and they called me for chucking him."

Redskin wide receiver Frank Grant said he still gets chucked downfield and, "Since everyone is converging on you once the ball is in the air, anyway, the new rule hasn't made that much difference to me."

Houston said, "Naturally you are at a disadvantage if you can't hit the receiver, but we have a lot of fast receivers on our team, too, so it evens out."

"I really don't think it's a bad rule. They (the rulemakers) helped us by outlawing the crackback block and I'll trade the crackback for not hitting the guy anytime."

The Cardinals, the Redskins' opponents Sunday in St. Louis, said two of their players will definitely be out of the game because of knee injuries: right guard Keith Wortman and left cornerback Allen. Wortman will be replaced by Terry Stieve and Allen by Perry Smith, a team spokesman said.

Linebacker Eric Williams was listed as doubtful because of an elbow injury and running back Willie Shelby as questionable because of a shoulder injury.

Linebacker Steve Neils, who fractured a hand, will probably play with a cast, the Cards said.