Ron Saul is part of a fading breed. He looks like an offensive lineman is supposed to look, not like one of those cloned 6-foot-5, 260-pound musclemen being manufactured these days by weightlifting.

He is short and squat, like a fire plug. He has no waist, his thighs resemble beer kegs and his knees -- what is left of them -- are knobby and misshapen.

His old King Cole face, carved from some old West gunfight scene, is craggy and wrinkled but, at the same time, strong and inspiring.

There is tape covering one thigh, bandages on his wrists, Band-Aids on his fingers. He walks as if every bone and muscle is about to give in to the years of abusee accepted as routine by a starting pro guard like Saul.

He is the last off the bottom of every pile, the last to be removed from practices -- and the first to volunteer for extra work. Need another center? Saul complies easily. A tackle is hurt? Saul can play any line position.

"The trouble with Ron," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said, "is he is so darn tough that sometimes he tries to play when he is hurt. And that doesn't help him."

It doesn't help because Saul is not the most gifted athlete. To be effective, he must play to his top ability on every play, and he cannot afford nagging injuries.

But Saul comes from a class of player that treats ailments with a wanton disdain. He's being paid to play, so that is what he does despite four knee operations and a constant ache throughout that well-worn body.

By the end of last year, he had sprains and pulled muscles in three different places but never missed a game. He couldn't; the Redskins were so beat up along the offensive line that he wasn't about to pull himself out.

Now this is a new season and Saul is as healthy as he will ever be. This Sunday, he has to be. He is going against perhaps his toughest assignment of the season: Cleveland tackle Jerry Sherk, a long-time rival who learned his football much the same way as Saul.

Sherk, however, is one of those gifted athleetes who once was considered the best at his position in the league, a distinction Saul has never had. A severe knee injury has but into Sherk's effectiveness, but he still leads the Browns with eight sacks and still is the major threat to quarterback Joe Theismann's health this week.

And Saul, the conscientious workman, a man middle American would cherish, will be on his own trying to stop him. He'll get some double-team help, but mostly it will be man against man, the way Saul always has liked it.

Ironically, it seemed likely that Saul would not be around this season for matchups against anyone. He is 31, a 10-year veteran, and admittedly a step or two slower -- the Redskins entered training camp looking to go with younder, more agile players on the line.

The guard Dan Nugent got hurt and the Redskins once again needed Saul. And he responded, according to Pardee, "by playing good football. He's off to a fine start, just like last season. You know one thing about Ron, he'll always give you an effort."

So will Sherk, and that's why Saul has formed a one-man admiration society for the veteran Brown player.

"You enjoy going against a guy like Jerry," Saul said yesterday while peeling off his uniform. "I mean, there won't be any tricks, no knees and things like that. If you beat him on a block, he'll tell you 'good going'. And when he beats me, I'll say the same to him.

"We both want to win this, but against a guy like him, you know you won't come out on top every play. He's too good. We have gone against each other so much, we know each other really well. There are some things I'm sure he'll try on me and the same goes for me against him."

"He plays off blocks so well. He's one of the hardest to stop on run blocks. He's both strong and quick and that's a hard combination to lick."

Even for Saul?

"Oh, when you get older you get a bit slower," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "but you learn some other things, like getting off the ball quicker or setting up faster on pass plays. Football is a game of position and angles and you learn those with experience."

Saul can't imagine what it would be like away from football. "It's been ground into me since I was 10," he said. "I still love to play it. Heck, I wouldn't know what to do in the fall without putting a helmet on."

The Saul brothers -- Ron, Rich and Bill -- all advanced from Butler, Pa., to the pros. Ron stopped off along the way for four years at Michigan State, where he started for three seasons and made both athletic and academic All-American his senior year.

The Oilers drafted him on the fifth round in 1970 and when George Allen needeed line help before the 1976 season, he picked up Saul from Houston for three draft picks.

"It's been fun wherever I've been," he said. "I've never really found it to be work. Sure you get bored at times but you've got to block that out of your mind and get ready for the team and the guy you are playing.

"Anyway, as soon as I suit up every day, I just feel I better start working. If I've got to be out there. I might as well give them what I can."

Off the field, Saul has dabbled in a number of professions, including teaching school and selling real estate. But off his performance earlier this week on one of those Redskin highlight shows, his best bet might be as a comedian.

His dry wit dominated the proceedings so much that by the end of the 30 minutes, host Glenn Brenner was calling it "the Ron Saul Show."

"I'm starting up a new show," Saul said. "No. 64 will be its name."

And what would he like to do when he retires?

"Maybe open up my own place, you know, a combination disco and shooting range."

Yeah, said teammate Pete Wysocki, "if they aren't dancing lively enough you'll have a way of getting their attention."

But for the moment, Saul's attention is on Sherk. As usual, he will spend some time Saturday night going over his assignments and how he will handle his opponent.

"For Sherk," Saul added, grinning, "I may put in an extra five minutes or so. He's worth the extra attention."

Pardee still considers tight end Jean Fugett (sore knee) questionable for Sunday. The Browns also continue to list running back Greg Pruitt as questionable . . . If Fugett doesn't play, Don Warren will start at tight end and plays will be shuttled in by either the wide receivers or the running backs . . . Redskin officals wil be anxious to hear what color commentator George Allen says about them this week on television. He was highly critical of them last season for cutting so many veteran. . . This is homecoming for two ex-Brown, Tony Peters and Joe Jones. Both will play extensively on the defensive unti.