Ken Houston, the Redskins' all-pro safety benched Monday night for the first game in his 14-year career, said yesterday he "could see the change coming" but says he is not discouraged and has every intention of winning back his starting spot.

"It is something that eventually happens to everyone who plays a long time," said Houston, who will be 36 in November. "It happened to Jack (Pardee, the Redskin coach). It happened to Richie (Petibon, the defensive secondary coach). I don't think I had been playing that badly to be replaced. But when you're losing, you have to begin searching for the right combination.

"I'm not 100 percent healthy and I've made a couple of bad plays," Houston said. "I'm taking nothing away from Tony (Peters). He's a good, young ball player and he's played well enough to start."

Considered the NFL's best strong safety for years, Houston, who has a year left on his contract, also left open the possibility he will return next season if the Redskins want him. "I'm not going to say this is my last year, I'll have to see. It depends on what happens the rest of the year."

However, team officials privately say Houston is not in their plans for next season and they expect him to retire. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound veteran returned this season because he wanted to end his career on a positive note. But it has not worked out that way.

"I wanted to come back and have a good year," Houston said. "I've been beat a couple of times but I've made some good plays, too. I knew when Tony came to the Redskins, he would eventually replace me. I just didn't know when."

Houston admitted the reality of not starting hit him during the warm-ups minutes before the game against the Broncos.

"Of course, it hurt not being out there when the starting defense went on the field," he said. "It's like losing your house. It becomes so much of a habit it's hard to break.Richie told me earlier in the week I wouldn't start and I appreciated his honesty. But it really didn't get to me until just before the kickoff."

Petibon, in his seventh year as coach of the defensive backs, said the move to Peters, a six-year veteran obtained from Cleveland two years ago, was made for several reasons.

"Kenny has had a few nicks, a concussion and a hyperetension of the elbow," Petitbon said. "He played a long time during the preseason, probably more than he should have. It's a long season and we felt we should give him a rest."

Would the rest be permanent? Both Petitbon and Houston agreed that was very possible, especially if Peters played up to his capabilities.

Houston had to admit his replacement played very well in the Redskins' 20-17 loss.

"I got to look at the game from the other side, a side I've never seen before," said Houston, who had started 183 straight games before breaking his arm and missing the last three of the 1979 season. "But I plan to stay prepared and be ready to step right in. I'm not a second guesser. Had I played and we'd won all of our games and then was replaced when we lost one, that would be one thing. But I've played in four games (losses) and had a chance to make some big plays.

"I said at the beginning of the season I'd play in any capacity the Redskins wanted to use me. I've always been a competitor and I definitely am going to try to win my spot back."

Houston probably will be on the field only on field goal and extra point specialty teams again Sunday against the Cardinals. One major reason is that Peters is supposedly better against the run and St. Louis, with Ottis Anderson, is a good running team.

Houston insists he has no complaints.

"Everyone wants to hog the playing time and I'm no different," he said. "I've been out there a long time and I realize that Tony wants to play as much as I do. It's like fighting the champion, you have to be better, not as good, if you want his title. Right now, Tony is the champion and I have to play better to start again."

Washington's pass defense is still first in the NFL, allowing 136.5 yards per game. . . Fullback Clarence Harmon aggravated his sprained ankle and center Bob Kuziel bruised an elbow and a knee in Monday night's game but both were ruled probable for Sunday. Harmon did not work out yesterday, but the sprain reportedly was not as bad as it was before the Philadelphia game, in which he did not play. Fullback Rickey Claitt (sprained ankle) did not play in Denver but is listed as probable for Sunday. . . The Redskins have defeated the Cardinals seven straight times, winning 30-28 and 17-7 last year. dThe Redskins have yet to score a touchdown at RFK this year.