Coach Jack Pardee, who was struggling yesterday with the injury problems that are complicating the Redskins' final squad cut Monday, took time out to defend the preseason play of quarterback Joe Theismann.

"I've been impressed with Joe's poise in the last few games," Pardee said. "He is showing an ability to move around under pressure and do things that will hopefully win some games for us down the road this season.

"It comes down to this in most cases: pass protection. I've been talking about it all training camp. If the quarterback gets time to throw, he's okay. But he has to have time."

Theismann twice made a mistake under pass rush pressure Friday night in the final exhibition game, which the Cleveland Browns won, 21-9

He was smashed by Rich Dimler just as he released a pass for Danny Buggs and the throw was picked off by Dick Ambrose. And he was sacked by Lyle Alzado and Dimler and fumbled.

The Browns converted both errors into touchdowns.

"Joe can't be blamed for it when he gets hit like that," Pardee said. "He didn't have that many sacks (two) because he moved pretty well back there. He's using good judgment on his scrambles.

"I hope we can keep him from getting hit that much. If we can protect him, I think his throwing will be okay. The key is the offensive line. If we can keep that first group healthy and if Dan Nugent can come back to give us depth, we'll be in good shape."

Theismann's play is perhaps the key in the Redskin drive for a successful season. Even Pardee admits his quarterbacks must be consistent for the team to win.

In four exhibition games, Theismann completed 36 of 62 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns. He threw three interceptions, two against the Browns. He was sacked seven times, but picked up 64 yards on eight scrambles.

As he showed during the Redskins' only touchdown drive against Cleveland, when he had decent protection in the preseason he was able to throw accurately. And, overall, the first team line kept defenders off him during the exhibition games.

"Remember, we were still using a lot of offensive linemen in the Browns game, but I think Cleveland was playing it more like a prep for the opening game of the season," Pardee said. "When you have Alzado going against an inexperienced man, it makes a difference.

In the touchdown march against the Browns, Theismann scrambled for eight yards and completed four passes for 55 more. One completion, for 20 yards to Danny Buggs, came on third and 13 and another, for 14 yards to Buggs, came on first and 15.

Still, Theismann heard the home fans boo his fumble and two interceptions. When Kim McQuilken took over, as planned, in the fourth period, he was greeted with scattered cheers.

"I'm disappointed that we finished the preason with mistakes," said Pardee, who has been emphasizing close to the vest, mistake-free football during training camp. "Maybe it was the end of the preason blues. I hope we got it out of our system."

The Redskins also came up with a couple of nagging injuries that could complicate the final cutdown, from 50 to 45 players, that must be made by noon Monday.

There are two major problem areas: the offensive and defensive lines. Pardee has to decide what to do with offensive guard Nugent, coming off a back injury, and defensive tackle Perry Brooks, who has recovered from an arm injury.

Nugent, who faces surgery if he has a relapse, has progressed well the past week and Pardee says he now is "more encouraged about Dan than I have been since he first went into the hospital for tests."

But neither Pardee nor Nugent knows when the player will be ready for game action. Pardee believes Nugent isn't ready to play this week. "He needs conditioning, the training camp work he missed."

So, do the Redskins put him on the injured reserve list and keep him sidelined for the season's first four games?

"I don't think we will go in that direction, but that is an alternative," Pardee said. "The problem now is that both of our reserve guards, Gary Anderson (sprained ankle) and Fred Dean (bad neck), are hurt. We don't know if they can play this week or not. We need to have one of the three ready to play for the opener."

Most likely, Nugent will be kept off the injured reserve list and on the active roster. The same decision probably will be made on Brooks, who also is working out, although Pardee is not that pleased with Brooks' rehabilitation efforts. The Redskins could decide to waive veteran Paul Smith, who probably would clear waivers, then bring him back after they place Brooks on the injured reserve list for four games.

Washington also still has that naging problem with its wide receivers. When Dennis Law decided Friday to retire instead of coming over in a trade with Cincinnati, it left the Redskins with just three split ends: Buggs, Ricky Thompson and rookie Kris Haines.

"We may go with three wide receivers and use (tight end) Jean Fugget or (rookie) Phil DuBois outside too," Pardee said. "We also are looking at other teams. We may wait until Tuesday to pick someone up, if we do at all."

If the decision is to go with four wide receivers, then DuBois is a likely cut as the third tight end. Otherwise, he makes the final squad. The Redskins also may waive one defensive back. Now that rookie Ray Waddy has become the extra player in the nickel defense, veteran Gerard Williams seems expendable.

One spot will be cleared when kicker Nick Lowery is cut. Pardee wants to keep three quarterbacks but may stay with just two now; if so, Fred Mortensen will be released. Either Anderson or Dean -- or both -- will be waived and Angelo Wells is a likely cut at defensive end. And either Smith or Brooks probably won't be on the active roster by the Houston game.

Kicker Mark Moseley, who has sat out the last two contests while resting a sore thigh, says he will be ready for the Oilers in the regular season opener.

"For some reason, I came up lame again on Wednesday," said Moseley. "I just had to shut it down. But I will be all right. I might have jumped the gun a bit by kicking too soon last week, but I will be ready for Houston."

Moseley said he will do little, if any, kicking this week.

"It may be just slight, but it's something I can't have," he said.

Others injured against the Browns included Mark Murphy (sore knee), Joe Jones (sore thigh) and John Riggins (arm bruise). Pardee expects all three to be okay for the Oilers . . . He also praised the work of his young middle linebacker, Don Hover and Neal Olkewicz . . The players don't have to report back to work until Monday morning. Meanwhile, Pardee and his staff are reviewing films of the Cleveland game, deciding the final cuts and beginning work for Houston.