Perry Brooks wants to be a star football player. But he isn't, mainly because he already is a star at something else -- eating.

Give Brooks some chicken pie and black-eyed peas his wife cooks so well and watch his stomach grow and his playing time shrink.

He has become the classic sports cliche, an athlete who has never played up to his supposedly outstanding potential.

The Redskins have had enough of it. They've given Brooks a message to carry through this training camp: Either live up to that potential or face the prospect of developing it with another club.

They've also made something else clear to him: play well and he can start this season at Diron Talbert's defensive tackle position.

The Redskins need a better pass rush from their tackles, and there is no tackle on the team quicker at pursuing quarterbacks than Brooks, even when he weighed a robust 280 or so.

"If I play like Perry Brooks can play," said Perry Brooks, "then the Redskins can be a better football team."

"Maybe," said one Redskin official, "Perry is finally getting the message. They've run out of patience with him. Either he produces or we have to turn to someone else. With Diron and Paul (Smith) near the end of their careers, we've got to have a young tackle come through.

But how much longer can we wait for Perry?" The club has been waiting for Brooks since 1977, when he came to camp as a free agent after being cut by New England the previous year. That also marked the first of three straight summers Brooks hurt himself badly enough to miss most or all of preseason practice. And when he returned each time, he was out of shape and so far behind in work, he made minimal contributions.

But when he is healthy, he has shown the coaches the kind of agility and instincts that only a few tackles in the game possess. That's what galls them so much. They know he has the talent to be a great player -- if the spirit moves him, and he moves away from the dining room table.

"He has the kind of quickness and acceleration you look for in a defensive coordinator. "But he needs to stay healthy in camp. He needs time and work and you can't get that on the sidelines.

"We've invested a lot in him, in terms of time and money. Now he needs to show us something. We've certainly told him what we want."

If Brooks didn't realize before how important this camp was to his future, he knows it now. He looked around this weekend and found himself accompanied by only one other veteran defensive lineman, Dallas Hickman.

"It's lonely here," Brooks said with a hearty laugh. "I'm like an old man among all these rookies and stuff. But I guess they wanted me to get down to work right away without any messing around."

Brooks took the opportunity to proclaim that "a new Perry Brooks" had driven into town, someone who was about to make his first major impression on this team.

To back up his claim, he can point to two unprecedented events in his life: he's moved his family from Baton Rouge La., to be near Redskin Park, where he can work out regularly in the offseason, and he's as slim and trim as he has ever been as a pro.

There is no truth, to the rumor, however, that Brooks' fork and spoon are kept under lock and key here. He's lost weight, but only through a rare display of willpower.

"When they talk about my lack of motivation," Brooks said, "they are mainly referring to my eating habits. I have a tendecy to let my weight get out of hand.

"But it's tough for me to go home in the offseason and not hog that food down. I love chicken pies and cornbread and rice and alll that soul food.

"But now I'm a different person. I've got a new son and I've got to keep getting money to keep Pampers on his fanny. I'm motivated. It's time for me to shine."

Brooks patted his stomach. Where once there were gobs of baby fat dominating his 6-foot-3 frame there now are only a few rolls. At 265, he is within five to seven pound of his playing weight. Just as important to the redskins, he's as strong as he's ever been after pumping iron in the offseason, though there is still much room for improvement.

"I've never really lifted that much before," he said. "I came up to Redskin Park about a month ago and put in some work and I can feel the difference. I want to get more solid, but I want to keep my stuff nice and still not lose my quickness.

"I'm going to live near the park in the offseason from now on. I wanted to before, but my wife was kind of scared about leaving the South and moving to the East Coast.

"I finally said to her, 'You wanted to stay at home and go to school but you haven't. Now I have to go where the bread is. If you want to go to school, you can do it in Virginia.'"

Now Brooks is just hoping to get through training camp in one piece. In a 1977 preseason game, he was knocked out for a season when Miami's Bob Kuechenberg cut him down with a block that damaged a knee. In a 1978 practice, he was sidelined when he hurt the other knee. And last year, he missed the first four games of the season after tearing a bicep in a scrimmage against Baltimore.

He still wound up with four sacks, second among tackles to Talbert's five. Dave Butz had three and Smith none, giving the tackles only 12 or the team's 47 sacks.

"We need more pressure from our inside men," Coach Jack Pardee said. "We think we can get it, because we think both Perry and Dave have expceptional ability when they want to use it.

"Dave means so much to our team, the way he can play, and Perry can be a star. He can be one of the best but he just has to push himself much harder. If he doesn't then maybe he is only a part-time player or a down," he said. "Perry Brooks wants to be an all-down player. When I come in on third down, they know what I'm in there for. They aren't stupid on the other side of the line. They can do things to stop you from rushing.

"But if I can play all downs, it makes it tougher for them to stop me. If Perry Brooks can get double-teamed, that would free someone else. Perry Brooks has got the kind of quickness that people like Joe Greene and Curly Culp have. No one player can stop them."

But first of all, Brooks has to advance from backup to starter, which means enduring a lot of two-a-day workouts at a quicker tempo than he has played at previously. He's not exactly relishing that idea, yet he predicts he'll turn out just fine.

"I just want to make sure that next year they let me come up with all the other veterans to training camp," he said. "I don't want any more early camps for Perry Brooks."