They call themselves the "Wild Bunch," an appropriate name for the Redskin special teams. In a recent punt-coverage drill, John McDaniel and Ray Waddy, attempting to down the ball in the coffin corner, smashed into each other.

It took them almost five minutes to shake off the effects of the high-speed collision. But they had accomplished their goal, stopping the ball from going into the end zone.

Their headaches, however, were nothing compared with the headaches Washington's special teams are giving National Football League opponents this season. The Redskins lead the NFL in both punt and kickoff coverage.

On a day when he reactivated wide receiver Chris DeFrance and waived reserve tight end Phil DuBois to shore up an injury-riddled position (Danny Buggs doubtful, sprained toe; Ricky Thompson probable, hip pointer), Coach Jack Pardee said his special teams are better than the ones famous in the George Allen era.

"With these new return rules (no blocking below the waist), we've got a real pain returning kicks and we're still working on that." Pardee said. "Our coverage teams right now are doing super. I don't know how anybody in football could ever do better than our coverage guys are doing."

In return coverage, the goals, said special teams coach John Hilton, are 17.9 yards per kickoff and 6.9 years per punt. The current yields, going into Sunday's game at Philadelphia against the Eagles, is 15.4 yards per kickoff and 4.6 yards per return.

So why is the Wild Bunch so good but so anonymous, as compared with the Allen heyday when guys like Bill Malinchak, Rusty Tillman and Bob Brunet were household names?

"When Coach Allen was here," said Ted Fritsch, snapper extraordinaire and a Wild Bunch leader, "his particular priorities were defense, special teams and offense. And, basically, in that particular order.And here I don't think there really is one set order as to whether emphasis is put on offense, defense or special teams.

"They're all equal among time spent preparing for that part of the game that we need to get ready for. We're playing as good as we were and we've got a lot of new players -- younger players. We're probably a little more aggressive, a little stronger."

Allen's men and the current special teams have the same ingredients: Older players who have accepted their roles and young ones who know that, except in a rare instance, making a special team is the only way to make the 45-man squad. Also, Mark Moseley and Mike Bragg are still excellent kickers.

Dallas Hickman, who replaced Fritsch this season as captain of the special teams, said, "When I was first here, there were guys like Bob Brunet, Rusty Tillman, Billy Malinchak. These guys realized their role on the team, whereas now I'm a linebacker. Pete Wysocki's a linebacker, most of us are linebackers.

"But we realize our role. I'm a special-teamer. I'm not a starter. And I get to play 20-25 plays a game. That's a lot. With new guys, they have to show their stuff on special teams. Unless you're a superstar, that's the way it's always been. That's the way it'll always be.

"With us older guys recognizing our roles, it makes these younger guys -- the Colemans, the Olkewiczes, the Waddys -- ready to play. There's more meaning to special teams. That's all we got. That's all I've got."

Although he is captain, Hickman is no power monger. In fact, he says, a strength of the Wild Bunch is that each man considers himself a captain, looking out for everybody else. As of yesterday, the Wild Bunch will be easy to distinguish at Redskin Park.

Fritsch ordered T-shirts. They are a bright gold. In burgundy script on the front is "The Wild Bunch Redskins." On the back is a design showing a "wild" football player. Yesterday, all the special teamers wore the T-shirts to their meetings.

Philadelphia, 4-1 like the Redskins, also has good special teams, now that its kickers are more competent. The Eagles' Wally Nenry leads the NFL in kickoff returns and their put-coverage team has the same average yield as the Redskins, 4.6 yards. Washington leads on fewest total yards -- 23.

At meetings and practices this week, the Redskins weill be working hard to improve returns. They are no slouches, however, with a nine-yard punt-return average, compared with a goal of 12, and an 18.8 kickoff-return average, compared with a goal of 24.

"The (elimination of the) cut block changed the return teams," said Hilton. "We were really a good cut team. When Tony Green ran one back all the way last year, we had eight men off their feet."

"You can't knock them down," said Pardeee. "you don't knock good athletes down hitting them in the chest."

Now, punt return blocking, Fritsch said, is like setting a pick in basketball.

"You have to cut the guy off between the ball and the huy," he said. "It's the type of game where you have to get yourself in a better position more with your hips and shoulders in the guy's chest rather than cutting him.

"Now, being on a punt team and on a punt-return team, you can be a little more reckless knowing that those guys aren't going to be able to cut you. You can push and shove and not have to worry about anyone going at your legs.

"Now you can fight with your upper body strength to ward them off. It's the same thing on kickoff coverage. You know when you're running down there full bore you're not going to get cut. That's probably why we have such great coverage teams on our kickoffs. We have guys with great speed and great upper-body strength. They know they're not going to get cut. So they're putting their ears back and running."

Typical of this new breed is Coleman, a rookie from Central Arkansas. On punt coverage, he lines up at an end. He can overpower defensive backs who try to block him. If Don Harris was the emerging star of the 1978 special teams, Coleman is the man for that honor this season.

The Redskins also have a goal of five blocked punts per season, but are off to a slow start in that category.

"Actually what I've done, because of the conseque aces of roughing a kicker, we'll take a block if we can get it," Hilton said, "but we're more thinking of scaring the devil out of the kicker, bringing his average down. Last week, we had (Atlanta's John) James shook up. We cut five yards off his punt average.

"We want to harass, but be penalty-free. Philadelphia has benefited from two running-into-the-kicker penalties this season."