Buddy Hardeman, the Redskins' new kick returner, is one of the first to admit that the job isn't all that hard.

"All you have to do is catch the ball and read blocks," he said. "Anyone who can do those two things should be a decent kick returner."

As the replacement for Tony Green, last year's dazzling Redskin returner, Hardeman got off to an impressive start Sunday against the Houston Oilers.

He ran back three punts for 91 yards, the longest going for 52 yards. As a result, Hardeman is the NFC's leading punt returner after one game.

Surprisingly, Hardeman doesn't consider himself only a return man, even though he probably wouldn't be a Redskin now if it weren't for that skill.

"It may sound funny, but I just don't feel I made the team because I can return punts," he said, "but because I could do a lot of other things. I can catch the ball, play running back and block."

Redskin Coach Jack Pardee agrees and that is one reason he and General Manager Bobby Beathard did some fancy footwork of their own with Hardeman.

A quarterback at Iowa State, Hardeman, 24, went from there to the Canadian Football League and Winnipeg's injured list two seasons ago. Last season, as a defensive back, receiver, running back and part-time kick returner, he played four games with Toronto before being released to make room on the roster for a Canadian citizen.

He signed with the Redskins two days before they went to camp in July and immediately caught Pardee's eye.

"We were pleased with him from the very beginning," Pardee said. "One game doesn't make a career, but he has shown the ability to be a good all-purpose back. He blocks well, has good vision and can catch the football. He just has some traits that all backs don't have."

Because of his inexperience as a runner, the Redskin's depth at that position and Green's presence, there didn't appear to be much room for Hardeman. But Green did not distinguish himself in the preseason.

The Redskins took a chance by cutting Hardeman and keeping Green.That enabled them to give Green one more preseason game to try to keep his job and it also enabled them to hide Hardeman.

Since most teams were trying desperately to cut back their rosters, not many were going to pick up an untried free agent the Redskins had released before the final cut.

So when Green failed to Impress the Redskins in the final preseason game, Hardeman was still available.

"When the Redskins released me, they told me I would be the first one called back if someone got hurt or something." Hardeman said. "I didn't really believe them. I just looked at myself as having been cut. I was visiting friends in Chicago and Minneapolis. I was not expecting a call."

The call came and Hardeman was back the next day.

One reason the Redskins like Hardeman so much, both as a return man and as a ball carrier, is because of his style. He looks for the hole and then hits it; if none is there, he lowers his head and gets what he can.

"I'm a slasher, not a dancer," he said. "I just like to get the ball and go. I don't believe in a whole lot of moves. You have to make them some times to get free, but the key is to take what you see. You've got to run north and south and, if you do, you'll always have positive results."

Hardeman said he was surprised Green was released but that he had no time to dwell on the move.

Green had become the darling of the Redskin fans and was perhaps the team's most exciting player much of last season.

"I just hope I can please the people, myself," Hardeman said. "I'll do the best I can."

Hardeman, 6-0, 190, also ran back one kickoff for 21 yards against the Oilers, but Pardee isn't counting on him to be the primary kickoff returner.

"We might use someone else back on kickoffs and just use Buddy as the punt returner," Pardee said. "Maybe Lonnie Perrin. With the new return rules, a big strong return man on the kickoffs may be an advantage."

Guard Dan Nugent underwent surgery at Sibley Memorial Hospital yesterday to repair a herniated disk. Dr. Arthur Hustead, who performed the 1 1/2-hour operation, called it successful and said that Nugent, who is on the injured-reserve list, should be able to come back next season . . . Because of the rain, the Redskins reversed their normal working schedule yesterday. They practiced in the morning and had their meetings in the afternoon. . . . Tight end Jean Fugett missed the practice, but made the meetings. He was excused from the workout because his infant son was ill.