Don Hover has read in the newspaper and heard on the radio call-in shows that the Redskins have a problem at middle linebacker.

Because he is confident he can handle the position, the Redskins middle linebacker quietly disagrees with critics. But he quickly admits they have cause to bring out the heavy artillery.

"I haven't played as well as I want to," Hover said yesterday. "I've been disappointed with some of my games. It's discouraging to see yourself on film, knowing what to do but not doing it.

"Maybe mad is a better word. I get mad at myself. I've got to do a better job. But I think it's just a matter of seeing more plays. As the season goes on, I'll improve."

After three games, Hover is the Redskins' leading tackler. But he is not threatening Jack Lambert and Harry Carson as the game's top middle linebackers.

Most importantly to his team, he is playing at the level his coaches expected at this point: not sensationally, sometimes erratically, but better than Harold McLinton did last season.

Hover has not eliminated the staff's concern. His long-range role with the team is still to be decided.He could have a long tenure at middle linebacker, he could lose his job this season to rookie Neal Olkewicz or he could be replaced next year by a top draft choice.

"Oh, he isn't an All-Pro," said Coach Jack Pardee, "but he is coming around. He's giving us what we expected at this point.

"There is no question he has improved our mobility at the position over last year. He can get to the outside on running plays better than Harold could.

"I know it looks like teams are having success running straight at him, but a lot of that has to do with our defensive front. They are getting stronger and that will help Don. They have to cut people down and take some of the load off of him. He can't expect to do everything."

Hover's play so far reflects his inexperience.He is a raw novice in the middle, having played just one game there in his entire football career before this season. Middle linebacker is a difficult position to learn at any level, but in the pros, his attempts can be likened to trying to master computer programming in a week.

For the Redskin defense to handle the run better, Hover must improve. He knows the Cardinals will test him Sunday because they run lots of draws and their standout center Tom Banks thrives on man-to-man blocking.

"We are trying not to give him too much at a time," Pardee said. "There is a lot to learn at the spot and we want to bring him on slowly. He had his best game against the Giants and that is progress.

"He isn't as aggressive as he can be. He probably was more aggressive in the preseason, but now teams are attacking us differently. It's different circumstances."

Hover believes the lack of aggressiveness comes from the difficulty he is having "thinking in practice but reacting" in games.

"I'm doing too much thinking in games. I'm being too tentative. I'm not playing football and hitting people. But there is so much to remember, so much to learn. I'm still sorting out what is important and what isn't."

He says he was so conscious of Detroit's tendency to trap block that he kept stepping up quickly into the line "even when they were constantly running outside, so I was no help in the pursuit." Other teams have had success cut-blocking him. And he still reacts sometimes like an outside linebacker "flowing instead of banging."

"I get down on myself, but this isn't an easy position," he said. "Maybe that is why so many teams are going to 34.

"I don't expect to be great overnight. I think I'm learning my lessons and that is important. And I expected to see some criticism.

"When you have young guys like Rich (Milot) and myself in there and things break down a little, we are natural targets to go after. I can live with that.

"At least the coaches haven't put added pressure on me. They've been great. They have pointed out mistakes but they haven't been on me and that helps."

Most of the pressure on Hover is self-imposed. He was more shocked than McLinton when the veteran was released before the season opener, leaving the middle wide open for the eighth-round pick from Washington State.

"I'm so darn determined to prove that coaches didn't make a mistake when they let Harold go and kept me," Hover said. "I don't want to make it where people can say they were wrong. That's why I want to do so well so fast.

"I know they took a chance, a big chance, with me. I am unproven and Harold was a veteran. It was a gamble."

So Hover is trying to make up for McLinton's 10 years in a few short months. He has found filling the void is not always easy.

"Like playing against Banks," he said. "Harold probably faced him 10 times and he knew how he blocked and how he played.

"I have to learn by watching films and trying to pick up tendencies. But you really can't get a feel for it until you go against them. I guess it comes down to a matter of learning by your mistakes.

"You just hope you don't make too many mistakes along the way."

The Redskins practiced on their artificial turf field during a constant rain . . . Pardee said tackle Dave Butz will play Sunday but he was not sure how much.