With training camp almost half over, Coach Jack Pardee's game plan for preparing the Redskins for their season opener against the Cowboys is on schedule, except for one major problem: the absence of John Riggins.

And as long as Riggins remains out of camp and entwined a contract dispute with the club, it will be hard for Paradee to produce the team he had envisioned.

The squad could turn out to be just as competitive, but a number of players would have to perform far better than expected. What is most galling to many is that Riggins' absence puts a strain on these players.

Otherwise, the elements that were to make this camp so special -- the competition for positions, the confidence produced by last year's winning season, the addition of some highly talented draft chices -- have produced benefits. If Riggins were in uniform, Pardee might not be able to restrain his enthusiasm over what he has seen develop the last two weeks.

Now begins the shakedown process. With the first exhibition game Saturday at Baltimore, the special attention that rookies and young veterans have been receiving will diminish. First stringers have to be rounded into shape and those who cannot produce will be weeded out before the first official squad cut Aug. 19.

"We have to decide our substitution pattern by the end of the week for the Colt game," Pardee said. "So that is part of the process of deciding who we should continue developing and who just isn't going to help us this year.

"You just hope you don't make a mistake with a player. You hope you've seen enough in the films of our two scrimmages and in what they have done in practice to make a correct decision.

"They still have this week to change our mind. But we can't play everyone Saturday and it is time for us to give our regulars the work they need to get ready for the season."

Although only six to eight new players possibly will make this team, the squad is far from set. Pardee has to decide his down-and-distance substitution patterns, has to pick his key back-up personnel and, in some cases, has to decide who of a number of good players will be kept at certain positions.

Among those positions that should warrant a lot of attention the next few weeks are:

WIDE RECEIVER -- The Redskins could find only three receivers good enough to carry last year, but there are so many talented ones in camp this season that cutting to four will be a problem.

Rookie Art Monk so far has lived up to his early billing. John McDaniel and Ricky Thompson, holdovers from 1979, have a head start on the rest of their rivals and could be hard to beat. Morris Owens, obtained in a trade from Tampa Bay, has performed well in camp and has the experience offensive coordinator Joe Walton likes.

Still, free agent Zion McKinney has blossomed from longshot to legitimate candidate. Another rookie, draft choice Lawrence McCullough, is talented but trying to make the change from quarterback and may run out of time. Although McKinney doesn't have blinding speed, his consistency has made an impression on both Pardee and Walton.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- The expected battle betweeen Ron Saul and Dan Nugent for one guard spot has developed, as well as several others.

Gary Anderson, a guard on injured reserve last season, is trying to learn to play center, which would give him more versatility. But former Bear Dan Pfifer already is pushing veteran Ted Fritsch for the job as backup center, although Fritsch has the edge because of his kick-snapping chores. And holdover Fred Dean in showing no signs of wanting to give up his job as reserve guard. Draft choice Melvin Jones can't seem to master pass protection at guard (he was a college tackle) but has so much raw ability the coaches hate to give up on him.

Tackle Mike Gibbons, also on injured reserve last year, is being given ample opportunity to beat out holdover Greg Dubinetz as the No. 1 backup to Terry Hermeling and George Starke. With Hermeling possibly slowed by a sore back, Anderson may be tired at his spot also.

This will become a numbers problem. Last year, the Redskins kept only one reserve at each of the three interior line positions. If the same is done this season, some good players will have to be cut, especially at guard and center.

RUNNING BACK. Not knowing what Riggins will do complicates matters. A free agent rookie like Ricky Claitt, who can plow ahead for short gains, suddenly becomes more important.It is this big-back power that the club will miss most if Riggins does not play.

Should the Redskins keep only five backs, Claitt will face an uphill fight to make the team. Bobby Hammond has had a good camp to work his way into a challenging spot behind Buddy Hardeman at halfback, where Ike Forte and Beny Malone could start again in certain situations to free Hardeman for more rest. If Don Testerman were to stand out this weekend against the Colts, he would figure prominently in the fullback race.

Of course, many of the other positions are far from settled. For example, defensive and Joe Jones, who began last season as a starter but didn't seem to figure in the Redskins' plans this year, has used his increased strength to attract more attetion from the coaches. Second draft choice Mat Mendenhall needs time but will be kept around at end. Tackle Perry Brooks is beginning to make his move toward winning a starting spot from veteran Diron Talbert. And free agent tackle Chris Godfrey from Michigan keeps drawing praise from Pardee for his improved play.

Figuring Monk, Mendenhall, kick returner Mike Helms and quarterback Mike Kruczek will make the team, the rest of the expected newcomers should come from the likes of Anderson, Gibbons, linebacker Kevin Turner, Claitt, Jones, McKinney, Pfifer, defensive and Mike Matocha, Owens and possibly punter Mike Connell.