The Dallas Cowboy offense came from the invention mind of Tom Landry, though one suspects Agatha Christie and assorted jewel thieves had considerable input. Defenses are given so many seemingly logical -- but false -- clues and trails that their heads are dizzy and bodies vulnerable to the most elementary play.

Dallas especially delights in deceiving middle linebackers. It had one of the best, the Dolphins' Nick Buoniconti, beside himself in frustration during Super Bowl 6, darting one way while the ball carrier went another -- and past him.

So we can imagine all manner of mush colliding in the mind of the Buoniconti playalike with the Redskins, Neal Olkewicz, this week. Shifts and keys, tight ends out of the backfield, cheerleader crackbacks, enough maddening motion to send a rational man into insurance.

"Naw," said Olkewicz. "I don't pay a whole lot of attention to all that fluff. It's an awful lot of complicated stuff, but when you get down to it what you gotta do is attack the guy with the ball. That's what it boils down to."

Neal Olkewicz vs. America's team, Roger the Dodger, Tony Dorsett and all those escort carriers along the Cowboy offensive line is not what either he or Washington could have imagined a year ago. Or six months ago. Or six games ago.

He had been a wonderful little stinger for Maryland, but when the NFL looked at his height (6 feet) and weight (218 pounds) and realized many wide receivers were taller and heavier, he was thrown back.

The NFL demands sharks for middle linebacker, usually Great Whites, Butkus and Bednarik, players who gobble halfbacks for snaks. And here was this little rascal who had not even caused larger football ripples in a basketball league, the ACC.

But Bobby Beathard looked at Olkewicz and saw another wicked fish, a piranha. At the moment, he seems to have landed the catch of the season, for Olkewicz has defied most of the poplular cliches and not only played for the Redskins but also played well.

He is a rookie at a complex position. A short rookie. A short rookie with limited skills. A short rookie with limited skills playing behind what will not go down in history as the NFL's best.

"But he got a big punch," said the linebacker coach, George Dickson. "And a middle linebacker's gotta have a big punch. He also has the instinct you need, something you can't teach or he can't really explain but which gets him to the ball.

"It's like a grat runner. He can't tell you how to hit the holes and all that. He just does it. Same with guys like Neal.They find a way to beat you somehow. They find a way. With him, how he achieves isn't as important as that he achieves.

"He's not big, but he plays well; he's not fast, but he covers well. He has strong legs and arms. And you learn more in one game than you do in five years of practice.It's like a rifle platoon that you take out in the field for those little exercises time after time.

"There's nothing like some SOB firing live bullets at you to make you dig those holes faster."

Olkewicz was thrown into middle-linebacker combat shortly after the opening kickoff against the Browns a month ago. And the best observation is the simplest: all of a sudden the Redskin middle linebacker and the ball usually were at the same spot -- and that spot was not for from the line of scrimmage.

"He (Dixon) talks to us about the will to resist," said right linebacker Pete Wysocki. "He means how much you can take before you give up. Some guys are broken after 57 plays, some after 20.

"Neal never stops. Somebody hits him and he laughs. He's got one nerve in his whole body -- and nobody's found it yet."

Olkewicz came to training camp with few false hopes. Yet he now is living his wildest dream -- and he shows it. Off the field and behind that well-kept beard is an is-this-really-happening-to-me air not seen here since Jon Jaqua.

His locker once was Chris Hamburger's. He also wears Hamburger's former number, 55, everywhere but during games. Also, he has become the object of locker-room pranks and jokes reserved for young players with a future.

"If somebody last year had told me I was going to be a starting middle linebacker in the NFL this year, I'd have laughed," he said. "But I never doubted my albility. I knew I wouldn't have to hang my head if I didn't make it.

"During the early days of camp, I had some doubts. We were doing drills, and I'm not the most angile guy. Once we began to hit, though, I started to believe I had a chance.

Few others did, even though Beathard kept publicly praising him almost hourly. Within the team, the young linebackers with extraordinary potential were said to be Rich Milot and Monte Coleman, who also have progressed as well as expected.

Then the Redskins released the popular Harold McLinton and middle linebacker was entrusted to two youngsters. It was written here that the move was unwise, not becaue second-year man Don Hover might not be able to play but because the backup, the fellow "scarcely larger than a mole," would be forced to embarrass himself if Hoover were hurt.

Hoover is not hurt; he has relinquished the position and it is in good hands. Also, there is a large M taped just before Olkewicz's nameplate on his locker.

Molkewicz is doing fine.

"He has a nice future," said Dickson, "a chance to contribute to winning Redskin teams for quite a few years."