Despite a staunch defense of his players' enthusiasm and effort this season, Coach Jack Pardee admitted yesterday the beleagured Redskins are a team in search of leadership.

"You can appoint captains, but not leaders," Pardee said. "We have more leadership right now on our special teams than on offense or defense.

"What we need is some players to start playing well. Leadership has to be earned through respect and performance. You can talk like a leader all you want but you become a leader by playing well and that's not happening with us."

Pardee's views are shared by some of the Redskins. As one player said after Sunday's demoralizing 14-0 loss to Seattle, "Everyone is looking for someone else to pick it up and come through. But no one is doing it. We just don't have any enthusiasm."

According to Pardee, the 1-3 Redskins, off to their worst start since 1965, are struggling and trying to find themselves -- without the superstar, without the proven clutch player who pulls out the game every week. "Our true ability just hasn't surfaced yet."

Among all the Redskins, there probably are just three players who could play Pardee's "clutch player" role. But John Riggins is retired, Mark Moseley is struggling and Joe Theismann is reeling from a four-week battering at the hands of opposing defensive linemen.

Team officials still heatedly defend their handling of the Riggins episode. Although he was considered a team leader, they say his presence would have had little effect on what has happened this season -- a view that Pardee endorses, at least in public.

Some players are now wondering when Pardee will step into this leadership void, stop showing so much patience and start getting tougher, both on the field and in the locker room. "He's letting things go by that I thought he would blast us for," said one Redskin. "He should really have chewed us out after this last game."

Pardee, however, says he feels patience is the best way to handle what has become a tumultuous situation at Redskin Park. He refused yesterday to criticize what appeared to be a lackluster performance by his team against the Seahawks, saying instead that Washington produced "by far the best effort we've had, except we were getting penalized out of it."

He said his defense did not quit during Seattle's fourth-quarter scoring march, in which the Seahawks ran virtually at will against Washington. He said that much of Seattle's success was due to his own team's over-agression. "We pursued too vigorously. If we had been standing around, we might have stopped it."

Pardee said he didn't want to sound as if he thought the team played a great game. "We didn't. We should have scored some points and we didn't. But it wasn't as bad as I thought before I saw the films. We had the effort that can win for us when all the pieces fall together."

Most of those missing pieces involve the offense, which absorbed the brunt of Pardee's mild criticism yesterday after the unit had failed to score against the worst defense in the AFC.

The Redskins drove inside the 38 eight times against Seattle and didn't come up with any points. "We were just killed by penalties," Pardee said.

It's frustrating to the team to see you in the scoring area that much and then to lose it. It takes a toll on the team. The defense shouldn't get down over the offense not scoring, but you are going to see that. sYes, that's what happened late in the game."

To correct the offensive deficiencies, Pardee repeated that he will conduct a minitraining camp this week at Redskin Park. He said the team would concentrate on such fundamentals as receiver routes, quarterback dropbacks and line pass protection. He indicated that nothing new would be added to the offensive repertoire.

"When you have different people playing every week, you wind up not getting your basic plays down correctly. We have to make sure our fundamental timing is correct on our bread-and-butter plays. That's better than putting in a bunch of new plays because the other ones don't work. You create more mistakes that way."

That the Redskins, five weeks into the season, must return to a training camp atmosphere says more about the club's problems than its record.

The combination of Riggins' retirement and a string of injuries to key personnel have knocked out of kilter what Pardee always has termed a fragile team. Washington has neither the depth nor the nucleus of great players to absorb this series of killing blows.

"Jack would never use this as an excuse, but the whole offensive line is beat up," one team source said. "Every one of them is hurt enough to really be off form. Terry Hermeling (who had four holding penalties Sunday) was on crutches a week ago. Ron Saul has a ruptured calf (muscle). Jeff Williams missed all of training camp. George Stark is still out.

"And Don Warren's absence has just killed us. The only game we've run well in (against the Giants), he played. He's become an extremely valuable commodity."

The Redskins thought that they had improved their depth enough to offset the injuries. They were wrong. "Last year, we weren't that much better than teams we were beating, and we were healthy," Pardee said. "This year, we aren't nearly the team we once were. We have to build back up to that level again, but it will take time.

"Right now, I'm not thinking about playoffs or even our next opponent (Philadelphia). We just have to worry about ourselves. If we do that, we can deal with Philadelphia and the rest of the teams down the line."

Warren, recovering from a leg fracture, may return this week. Starke, who has a bad knee, will begin rehabilitation but likely won't be ready to play.

The other problems could prove harder to solve.

Moseley's slump -- he is two of nine for the season -- has everyone puzzled.

"Maybe it started in training camp with the bad snaps," Pardee said. "But whatever it is, we have to get it worked out. How in the world could you predict a kicker like Mark would go through this?"

Moseley is well aware of what his failures are doing to the team. "They have always depended on me," he said, "and now they are wondering what I will do. We aren't walking around with the same enthusiasm and confidence we used to have."

As horribly as the offense has played, the Redskins probably would have won at least one more game were Moseley in his normal form. "There is no telling what effect a few good field goals would have had by now on the team," Pardee said.

The Redskin staff also will spend time this week trying to restore Theismann's reliability. He has takena tremendous physical beating so far and did not play particularly well against Seattle, which he readily admits. With the ineffective running game, Theismann must produce, especially in pressure situations.

There is no doubt that Washington will stick with its current philosophy of striving for a balance between running and passing. Pardee is convinced that until the Redskin rush improves -- they've gained less than 100 yards in three of the four games -- Theismann will never have the time nor the protection to throw effectively.

But Pardee also said he would like to see rookie Art Monk, who caught one pass Sunday (a 45-yard pass-run), become more involved in the offense.

"Art has fine talent and he needs to get the ball more," Pardee said. "But it's hard sometimes because he is a wide receiver." Monk has caught 10 passes for a 14.5 average.

"I think our defense has played well enough. I like it," Pardee said. "And except for our field goal problems, our special teams have done the job. We have to build on those elements and get the offense straightened out. And we will. There is no need to panic. We'll start winning."