Joe Walton laughs about it now, but he remembers that no long ago the Redskins were wondering where they would find a couple of desperately needed wide receivers.

They found one, John McDaniel, languishing behind Isaac Curtis in Cincinnati and another, Ricky Thompson, sitting behind Roger Carr in Baltimore.

No one, not even Walton, the offensive coordinator, General Manager Bobby Beathard or Coach Jack Pardee, dreamed of the impact those two would have on the Redskins.

All of a sudden, with the acquisition of Thompson and McDaniel, both for medium-round draft choices, to go with Frank Grant and Danny Buggs, the Redskins have good depth at this vital position.

The littlest and, until this season, the most untried of the group, was Thompson, a 6-foot, 176-pound former long-jumper and quarterback who had only two career receptions.

With Buggs out indefinitely with a separated shoulder, Thompson caught six passes for 88 yards against the Cowboys Monday night and is tied with Buggs for the team lead with 11 catches.

"He's worked hard ever since he came here," Walton said of Thompson. "He always had the speed and the hands and it was just a matter of putting in the time and learning the routes and our system."

Much of that time was put in after practice with quarterback Joe Theismann, as both made adjustments to each other's styles. Now they work so well together that it looks like they've been together for years.

"I have a set amount of yards I am to run on every pattern," Thompson said, "but Joe has to see how fast I get there. For awhile, we were having trouble with the 'out' pattern. I was getting there quicker than he was used to the receiver getting there. He pointed out what I was doing and we worked it out one day."

There has been one major change in the Redskin passing game this year as compared with last, and a team has to have receivers like Thompson, McDaniel, Grant and Buggs to work with the new system.

In the past, a Redskin pass route would call for a receiver to go downfield 12-14 or 18-20 yards for example, and then make his cut. No more. Now it is go down exactly 12 yards, or exactly 18 yards, and make the cut. The guesswork has been eliminated.

"There is more discipline in our passing game," said Theismann. "Timing is a big thing now.

"Our pass routes are designed for me to release the ball most times before the receiver has even looked back for it, so you have to believe in each other," Theismann said. "A 12-yard route is a 12-yard route, not 11 or 13 yards.

"This way, we always know where our people are going to be and they are there," Walton said. "On every route, the line, the receiver and the quarterback know exactly how long it is going to take and everything. It is all based on timing and rythim, and if a ball is thrown on rhythm, it is harder for the defender to react."

"Ninety per cent of catching a ball is just concentration," Thompson said. "Hands are very important also, but quick feet could be the most important asset for a wide receiver. He has to be able to break off a pattern and make a quick cut."

The play of the Redskin offensive has had a great deal to do with the success of the wide receivers, also.

"Receivers last year had a tendency to run a 12-yard pattern and then turn around for the ball and see the quarterback on his back," Theismann said. "So then they would start cutting the 12-yard pattern to 10 yards, and then to eight. They would cut the route short to make up for the fact that the quarterback wasn't getting enough time.

"Now the approach is, 'You do you job and I'll do mine.' When a 12-yard route is called, they can run a 12-yard pattern because they believe the line will give me the time needed to set up and throw it."

Because the Redskin wide receivers are so similar in style and ability, they are interchangeable between flanker and split end and they are the ideal group with which to shuttle the plays in from the sideline.

They get about an equal amount of playing time, and Theismann has developed the same amount of confidence in each of them.

"We call the plays to the situation, not to which receiver is out there. Catching six passes against the Cowboys was a thrill for me, but any of the other guys could have caught them, too," Thompson said. "I was just lucky enough to be out there when the plays were called."