As he walked from the track, his body covered with sweat after running 1 1/2 miles, Redskin rookie Arthur Lane looked at an assistant coach, caught his breath and summed up the first torrid day of training camp.

"This," he said, shaking his head, "is murder."

Football was not meant to be played in July. And certainly it was not meant to be played in 90-plus degree heat and humidity that kept even casual onlookers sticky and hot.

But don't tell that to those Redskin rookies and veterans who showed up today to begin their quest for a spot on the team's 45-man roster.

Despite the treacherous conditions, they at least made an attempt at being spirited, even during a long seven-on-seven drill that ended an exceptionally lengthy first day of activity.

If there were any doubts about how Coach Jack Pardee was going to conduct his third Redskin camp, they were erased in this 3 1/2 hour afternoon of physical testing and drills.

The players did everything but hit -- and that will come Monday when two-a-day practice begins, no matter how hot it is.

"It's not really football until we start hitting," Doc Urich, the defensive coordinator, said, watching his students tossing footballs around. "This stuff we have to do, but this is going to be a good camp when we start hitting.

"We've got a lot of good young talent around here. They are in great shape, you can tell that just by looking at them. Yeah, it will be great when we start hitting."

It's stunning the way this team has changed in three years under Pardee. Not only are the Redskins younger -- they have some early round draft choices for a change -- but they are flexing their muscles as never before.

Hours of supervised work in the weight room has begun to pay off. The players are stronger and are coming here in better condition, mainly because they know Pardee is going to practice them long and hard, no matter what the weather.

The Redskins, for example, may never have had a player before like Tim Milanovich, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end from Wisconsin Superior.

Milanovich is massive, something out of Body Beautiful. He rips apart phone books in his spare time. And today, in the 40-yard dash, he ripped off a fine 4:65, fastest of the defensive linemen.

Can he play? "We aren't sure; we hope so but we aren't sure," Urich said. "We sure are going to find out in a hurry. He's an impressive person and he could really help us."

Last year, Milanovich never got through the first day of a training camp. He injured a keen during a drill and sat out the year, easing his frustrations by lifting even iron.

Many Redskins have been spending more time trying to improve themselves. The fact this roster will be difficult to crack -- may six to eight new players will survive the cut -- and the fact Washington will open against Dallas Sept. 8 has altered dramatically the atmosphere and intensity of this camp.

Unlike last year, when a major roster turnover was expected and not even Pardee was sure how his team would play, thee is talk this season of division championships and fearsome competition for starting positions.

"I think we all realize what is at stake for us this season," quarterback Joe Theismann said. "We have a chance to be a very good football team and go a long way.

"But it's not going to be easy. That's why we know we have to work hard in camp. The coaches will push us. I think we are all prepared for that.'

How much effect the heat will have on the camp is another question. The Redskins might be forced to practice later in the afternoon, but without lights around Biddle Field, their time is limited. Hot weather slows down the learning process, according to Urich.

"You try to ignore the heat but it bothers you and makes it harder to get all the work done," Urich said. "It could hinder us if it stays this hot. You know you are going to get heat this time of year, but you pray that it cools down so it is at least tolerable."

There weren't any heat casualties today, perhaps because the majority of the Redskins had run their 1 1/2 miles at Redskin Park under cooler conditions. Those who waited until this opening session soon wished they had been smarter.

"You can't get your breath," said Lane, who is nicknamed Turtle. "Man, the running just eats you alive."

But these are still heady days, before the two-a days start taking their toll, before the majority of the veterans show up and before the first cutdown day approaches.

Will Art Monk be as good as adverised?

Will such longshot draft choices as defensive end Mike Matocha and receiver Lawrence McCullough or such free agents as receiver Steve Stapler and fullback Kenny Harrison continue to show the promise demonstrated at Redskin Park workouts?

Will defensive end Mat Mendenhall develop enough to help the pass rush immediately?

Will anyone emerge as this year's Neal Olkewicz or Monte Coleman, players who didn't seem to have a enhance of making last year's squad, yet wound up with important roles on the team?

"That's what is so much fun about training camp," Joe Walton, offensive coordinator, said. "You get a chance to find out who can play and who can't after watching them at Redskin Park and talking about them for weeks.

"We've got some holes to fill and we know it. But we also have some bodies out here that can play, at least we think they can. Now it's up to us to find out who can do it quickly, before the vets show up next week,"

This is still the time when a rookie such as running back Sam Thomas can roller-skate to practice from his dorm and when Theismann, quarterback Kim McQuiken and guard Dan Nugent can spend slow moments sunbathing in a grassy field.

And these are the days when the coaches can fail to time defensive tackle Perry Brooks in his 40-yard dash test and then have all the parties laught about it.

"I was so fast," Brooks said, "that they couldn't get my start. They missed me."

It will probably be one of the few things that Pardee and his staff will miss during camp. And that's probably why Brooks was smiling so broadly.

"I'm just glad that they weren't talking about missing my 1 1/2 mile time."