John Riggins describes the transformation of the Redskin offensive line as "something like that old story of the little train that could. Every week, these guys just get better and better. And the holes just keep getting bigger and bigger."

Quarterback Joe Theismann says "I wish I knew what they were doing differently, but I don't. I just know every guy out there is doing a fantastic job. And I love it."

The results speak for themselves. Going into tomorrow night's shootout against the Cowboys, the Redskins are second in NFC rushing. Riggins is second in the conference individually. Theismann is the No. 1-ranked quarterback and has been sacked only eight times.

A year ago, the Redskins finished 23rd in NFL rushing. The offense sputtered all season and Redskin quarterbacks were mostly black and blue after being dumped 55 times, the second worst sack total in the NFL.

"When we first came here and looked at the films, it didn't look like they had the strength to come off the line of scrimmage," offensive line coach Ray Callahan said yesterday. "They had good technique, but it just didn't look like they had confidence blocking people."

"In the past, it had been a defensive philosophy here - the defense will win games. The first thing we had to do was sell the offense that we had the people and the ability to move the ball and score points."

And then came the switches: Terry Hermeling from right guard to left tackle, where he started his NFL career, and trading starter Tim Stokes; Dan Nugent into the starting lineup at right guard, and the guttiest change of all, cutting veteran Len Hauss in favor of big Bob Kuziel at center.

Some of the moves, particularly the trade of Stokes and the cut of Hauss, were accompanied by large howls. But on one is complaining any more.

"This is what I was hoping for and I thought they could do it," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said the other day. "During the offseason, all these guys were working hard with the weights and in training camp, every indication was that they could do the job.

"They've got the strength and speed, all the qualities you look for, and we've got depth, too. If you've got strength and ability and the right system, there's no reason at all that it can't work."

Callahan and offensive coordinator Joe Walton provided the system, and some new techniques, as well.

"Before, they were mostly position blockers," Callahan said. "In a position block, you take a position and try to keep your man from making the play. You don't really create much movement off the line of scrimmage.

"My feeling is that you have to move the defensive people out of there to make the cracks for the backs. I believe during practice in working a lot on that one-man sled. The drive block is the most important block in football, and that's what we're doing now.

"The Redskins always had trouble blocking the 3-4 defense. They never had conference they could run against it. The films I looked at it seemed like they hesitated coming off the ball. They don't do that anymore.

"We use something called the tag block, where the guard and tackle work together on the defensive end. That one block has helped us more than anything against the 3-4. It's not that they didn't have it before, they just didn't use it much."

"The most important thing is that we're much better at moving people off the line of scrimmage. And they're believing in the running game. You can't underestimate the importance of confidence in this game. And we are confident."

Callahan also has installed a different system of pass blocking, particularly in picking up stunts of opposing linemen.

Last year, the Redskins mostly blocked man-to-man. This year they have gone to more of a zone or area approach, with each man protecting his own piece of turf.

"We're also flexible and smart enough that if we want to man a certain situation, we can do that, too" Callahan said. "Against the Jets, we had a few plays where one side manned it and the other side erased it. You don't want defenses to get a fix on you, so that's a real plus to be able to do both."

Tackle George Starke also insists it is a major advantage to have the entire offensive unit - "not just the line" - playing well. "It's not a matter of the offensive line doing the job because the whole offense is doing it," he said.

"I think it's significant that Joe Walton's play selection is excellent, that the design of the plays is superior this year, that the receivers are blocking downfield, that we've got more people involved in the offense. All those things add up to moving the football.

"We're still running basically the same plays we ran before, we're just running them from different formations and defenses can't key on us. A lot of it has to do with the packaging, and that's been a major improvement.

"I don't think this line is superior in personnel to the ones we've had in the past, but we're playing better because we've got a better concept. After 1972, George (Allen) kind of intimidated the offensive coaches. It's possible they weren't free to do some of the things we're doing now."

"It was tough on all of us," said Riggins. "Everybody was working hard but we weren't getting results. During the preseason this year, we were having problems too. We played real bad in that last exhibition against Atlanta.

"But then, all of a sudden we go to New England and we moved the ball pretty well against what was supposed to be one of the better defenses around. That one game did a hell of a lot for the whole offense, and like I said, the line gets better every week.

"I've been on a lot of football teams and when you come right down to it, talent is pretty much spread out pretty evenly. The teams that win are the ones that believe they're goint to win, just like the offensive line that blocks well is the one that believes they'll block well.

"That's what's happened to these guys. Every one of them feels like they can handle the people in front of them. And that's kind of catchy. We all feel it now."

A luncheon honoring recent Redskin retirees will be held tomorrow at noon at the Twin Bridges Marriott.