Despite contrasting personalities and vastly different abilities, quarterbacks Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen were considered team leaders during their Redskin careers.

What made their holds on the team so strong?

Quite simply, both proved they could lead it to victories.

Joe Theismann, the current Redskin quarterback, has his own personality, much different from Kilmer or Jurgensen. His style is different too.

Theismann is gregarious an outgoing personality who became a favorite with the public and media before he became a first-stringer, to the chagrin of some teammates. Kilmer and Jurgensen, on the other hand, were less open, preferring to cultivate their own set of cronies within the team.

While Theismann begins the 1979 season as clearly the No. 1 quarterback - without Kilmer peering over his shoulder - he is not an acknowleged leader on a team Coach Jack Pardee says is searching for leadership.

"That is one of our goals coming into camp," Pardee said. "We have to develop the right leaders."

Can Theismann become a leader? A series of extensive interviews with teammates and coaches indicate the answer is yes, but only if he produces first-rate performances consistently.

"What we need from Joe most of all," said tight end Jean Fugett, "is for him to be successful on the field. The rest will just happen. You can't try to be a leader first and a quarterback second.

"All along, everyone has known that Joe has had the talent. But before he always had to contend with pressures off the field that aren't there anymore. Now it should be a lot more fun for him. He won't have to look over his shoulder."

When Theismann looked over his shoulder in the past, he saw Kilmer and his clique of partisan teammates. He was so intimidated by Kilmer's presence that most of the time he refrained even from asking questions in front of his rival during meetins.

But the club's management took away this deterrent by dropping Kilmer and most of the other holdovers from the Over-the-Hill gang. Remaining, according to one current Redskin, is a team "that hasn't prejudged Joe. I'm sure a few guys still dislike him, but overall most of these players are waiting to see what he does.He won't have any problems if he plays well.

"Are they jealous of him? No, I don't think so. If many of us were in his spot, with his opportunities, then we would all hope we'd take advantage of it. You can't resent him for being smart."

"Frankly, I think this whole quarterback situation has put too much pressure on Joe," said offensive tackle George Starke. "The fans look for things from him, but within the team, it's different.

"It always helps to have your quarterback as a leader. But on the old Dallas teams, Rayfield Wright was more of a leader than Roger Staubach. I'd like to see Joe just play as well as he can without worrying about being anything but a good quarterback."

It could well be that Stare, a team captain last year, could emerge as strong a leader as former center Len Hauss. Other members of the offensive unit bring up his name more frequently than Theismann's as a a leader. Starke shrugs off the accolades, preferring to talk about exactly wwhat constitutes leadership on a football team.

"It takes sacrifice, commitment and effort," he said. "It'd more attitudinal than it is ability. It's guy's attitude. He doesn't always have to complete the pass, but he better have a certain spirit, a toughness not to give in.

"Joe is capable of being a leader on this team. If he is, fine. If he isn't, but if he plays up to his abilities, that will be enough for this team."

But the Redskins' search for leadership does not involve just Theismann. This is a team in search of "character" as Starke puts it.

"We haven't developed a personality yet. That will come after a few games. We have a lot of young people, more than I have ever played with, and they have to be blended in."

Adds center Bob Kuziel: "It's a fact that near the end of last season, we lacked leadership. We can't go into this season the same way. We are looking for someone who won't let us bog down in the huddle when we are tired and sweating and sick of it all.

"Leadership can come from anywhere. You get it from the guy who is consistent, who guts it out week after week, who never lets down. He doesn't have to be a holler guy. That's really not important."

Ironically, Theismann's physical attributes may work against him this season in his quest for a leadership role. Just examine some of the past Redskin leaders: Kilmer, Hauss, Jurgensen, Larry Brown. Each inspired confidence and respect by overcoming crippling injuries and playing well despite pain.

Theismann, who may be among the best conditioned quarterbacks in the NFL, is blessed with good health. So it is not surprising to his teammates if he completes a pressure pass despite a fierce pass rush or if he scambles for a first down.

Those Redskins who supported Kilmer were convinced that Theismann would never be a successful NFL quarterback. When it mattered, they claimed, he just didn't have the ability.

But to guard Dan Nugent, that hasn't been proven yet.

"He has the talent to lead us," he said about his roommate. "He's a very talented person. You've got to remeber that very few of us performed that well on the field last year. Like Joe, we had good games and bad ones.

"This season is different for him. The team has changed, the personnel has changed. He shouldn't be judged on the past."

So the question of Theismann's leadership possibilities ultimately comes down to one point: can be become a top-flight NFL quarterback?

"It think Joe can do the job," said offensive coordinator Joe Walton. "He is working very, very hard and is really picking up things.

"You have to remember that Joe really has had only one season as an NFL quarterback. And last year, he was trying to get used to a system that was entirely new. And there were other pressures that everyone knows about.

"What he needs is consistency. He has to put it together and get into a rhythm.

"That's how leadership is developed. You have to be able to depend on that guy. In his case, I tell him he should be right 70 percent of the time. The other 30 percent, you will have a good defensive play or you will have a breakdown by someone else.

'You don't have to like a guy or go out to dinner afterwards with him to think of him as a leader. But you can't be one by just talking either.

"And you would like to hope your quarterback is a leader. He is the guy who takes the snap, calls the snap count, puts the ball in play. It all starts with him.

"The players don't care if the quarterback makes a lot of money or gets a lot of fringe benefits. They ultimately measure him by just one criteria: can he do it on the field?"

But Walton also adds: "Joe can't do it alone. He has to get help from everyone else. People forget that when they talk about quarterbacks. They think they are miracle workers. But if assignments break down around him, he can't do much about it."

Yet it was when the Redskins were breaking down or indesperate trouble that Kilmer and Jurgensen established themselves as leaders.

"Billy would get so excited in the huddle, he was so intense, that he would sometimes call a play we never even had," said Starke. "We'd have to tell him. But you knew he would get it done somehow.

"Sonny was different. He was so calm, nothing ever seemed to bother him. In the tough spots he'd outline a play on the ground like nothing was happening.

"But if it was the last minute of the game and we had no timeouts left and we had to go 90 yards to win, you knew that Sonny would be the guy to get you there."

Now it is Theismann's turn. He has been groomed for the spot the last five years. The outside pressures are gone, he's admittedly in the best condition of his career and the coaching staff is committed to him until he plays himself out of the job.

And his teammates are waiting and watching. No one expects him to be the universal team leader Kilmer was, whose fire and spunk inspired even the defense. Perhaps only safety Kenny Houston, the most admired and respected man on the squad, can fill that role now. All they are hopint for, according to Fugett, is this:

"We want Joe to have a great season without any controversy, because if he has a great season, so will we. Maybe it isn't fair, but so much depends on No. 7. So much." CAPTION: Picture, Quarterback Joe Theismann has won over fans, now must do same with his teammates. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post