How about Mike Nelms as a Redskin running back next year?

That idea might seem farfetched, considering Nelms has spent most of his pro football career as a kick returner and defensive back. But Coach Jack Pardee admits he has considered the notion more than once.

"It's something we wouldn't do until next year, of course," Pardee said, "but we'd like to get him the ball more. How do you do that? One way would be to make him a running back.

But we'd have to be pretty sure it's a smart move. We wouldn't want to make the switch and then not have it work, because then we'd have wasted a lot of time, which would distract from his play in the secondary.

"I'm convinced Mike can become a full-time secondary player. He has those abilities. So we would have to see if making him a halfback, which is a risk, is worth sacrificing a defensive back. But the way he runs back kicks, well, it's tempting to try him out on offense."

Nelms says he's always had a secret ambition to play running back, and he almost got the chance, both in college and in Canada.

"They had running plays for me in both places," he said. "Once, in Canada, the coach sent me in to run the play at the goal line. But he didn't send the play in separately and I was left to decide whether to call the running play or a pass play. I called the pass play but the quarterback never even finished his drop, he was rushed so hard. And I thought I was going to get six (points) in that situation."

Nelms realizes his best opportunity to play more for Washington probably will come in the secondary. He is a talented defensive back who happens to be on a club with the No. 1 pass defense in the league, making game minutes hard to come by. So he has had to be content with serving as an occasional nickel back or a s short-yardage substitute -- and as the NFC's No. 2-ranked punt returner.

Washington's special-teams players are pushing Nelms for the Pro Bowl. But to get him there, they know they have to break him loose for the kind of gains he accummulated last week against Atlanta, when he was the most effective part of the Redskin's struggling offense.

In that game, Nelms brought back four punts for 91 yards, including a 64-yarder that he almost ran in for a touchdown, and three kickoffs for 101 yards, including a 51-yarder that came close to being a touchdown.

"You always want to be No. 1, and that's my goal every season," Nelms said. "But this year, I really don't have an idea of what a good season would be like in the NFL. My last season in Canada, I wanted to return for 1,000 yards and at least seven touchdowns. I got the 1,000 yards, too. Now that I've gone through a season here, I'll be able to set specific goals from now on.

"This is a harder league to be a good return man. Everyone is bigger, stronger and faster and I've had to adjust to it. In Canada, I felt I was big enough to run over most people. But if you try that down here, your body is going to suffer. It's not very smart. You have to be able to pick your spots and not try to be crazy."

Yet Nelms, who has continued the Redskin tradition of quality punt returners, says his job is really "prettry easy." And he's serious.

"All you need is a couple of key blocks in the right place," he said. "If I can get a crease or a hole, I can pop it for 15 or 20 yards every time. You've got to anticipate, that's the key thing. There isn't much time to make decisions, and you can be wrong an awful lot.

Much of Nelm's success in returning kicks can be attributed to his ability to break tackles. He has an uncanny knack of escaping from opponents, even when they seem to have him wrapped up. He says it's all a matter of "not ever thinking you will go down."

"See," he said, "a lot of people will go down as soon as there is contact made. They figure that's all they are going to get out of it. But I don't. mI convince myself that I don't want to stop, that I want to get a few extra yards.

Nelms came to Washington in a unique position. Although he had never played in the NFL -- Buffalo had drafted him out of Baylor in the seventh round in 1977 before cutting him -- he was handed the return chores by Pardee. rConsidering the emphasis placed on special teams by the Redskins, it was a move that could have backfired despite Nelm's success in Canada.

But he has more than lived up to Pardee's expectations. His straight-up running style, coupled with his size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and quick start, have enabled him to withstand the punishment of his specialty while he adapted to the NFL and to his new blockers.

Quarterback Joe Theisman took another full practice load yesterday. Barring a last-minute setback to his hamstring, he will be in the starting lineup Sunday . . . Cornerback Lemar Parrish, who has sore ribs, worked out for the first time this week, but end Coy Bacon missed another day with the flu . . . Halfback Buddy Hardeman is undergoing tests at Sibley Hospital for lingering headaches that began after last Sunday's game . . . Former Redskin Bill Malinchak, who now works on Wall Street, contributed $1,000 to the Harold McLinton memorial fund. Members of the Redskin alumni association will be soliciting money for the fund on Metro buses before Sunday's game and afterward at the Stadium-Armory subway station.