The Redskin defensive unit already was in the locker room yesterday, the players eating the last bites of cake from their box lunches, when the rest of their teammates walked in.

"See, now you can tell who has to learn a lot of stuff and who has it easy," announced quarterback Joe Theismann. "The offense has a 2 1/2-hour meeting and the defense already has been out long enough to eat their lunch."

It may be only April, but, at least for the Redskin offense, the opening session of Coach Joe Gibbs' first minicamp resembled a full-scale meeting day during the middle of the regular season.

When rain cancelled a scheduled morning workout, Gibbs and his offensive staff just talked longer with their players, filling them in on an attack whose terminology, according to Theismann, differs about 95 percent from the system employed by former Coach Jack Pardee.

"I'm excited about what I know of the system now and what we are learning," Theismann said. "I've always dreamed of playing aggressive offensive football, and now that dream is coming true. We are going to attack people and that has to make everyone excited."

The defensive players had it easier. Richie Petitbon, the new defensive coordinator, was Pardee's secondary coach and much of what he is teaching resembles the old system.

This was the first time that the squad has met Gibbs since he was named Redskin coach in January. Gibbs held an upbeat team meeting in the morning, preaching his standard theme: to be successful, players have to place individual goals secondary to team goals.

The only players who didn't show up were unsigned defensive end Coy Bacon; quarterback Kim McQuilken, who is expected to retire, and guard Jeff Williams, who had not given advance notice he would be absent. This is a voluntary camp, although Gibbs said it would be difficult for him not to form opinions about players who missed it without excuses.

Center Dan Peiffer, who is negotiating his contract, attended meetings but did not practice. Running back Bobby Hammond, guard Dan Nugent and running back Ike Forte agreed to contracts before the workout.

Gibbs said Bacon called him Wednesday and asked to be excused so he could wrap up personal business in Los Angeles. He told Gibbs he would be at Redskin Park Monday.

"You have to notice how enthusiastic Gibbs and the rest of the staff are," said safety Mark Murphy. "They seem to be instructors, teachers, I think they'll be conducting things like a classroom. They aren't going to assume that you know everything."

It was obvious that the coaching staff was on a football high yesterday, even if the players weren't walking around with wild-eyed enthusiasm. The camp follows three months of preparation by Gibbs and his assistants, who intend to use the three days as a major step in their evaluation of the squad.

"It was exciting being out there," Gibbs said after the afternoon practice that lasted almost two hours. "It was fun. If I had seen someone hanging back or displaying a negative attitude, it might have dampened it some.

"But I told them we intend this to be a teaching camp and we want them to have fun.We are throwing an awful lot at them. . . We want to see who can absorb it and who falls behind. That helps you in knowing how to work with your players."

"I was very impressed with what we learned about the offense," Hammond said. "It takes some of the things out of the offense last year that might have been restictive. They try to take advantage of the things you do well instead of molding you to the offense."

Clarence Harmon was happy to get on the field "to put in use everything that they are telling us. You want to see how it works."

Gibbs didn't have the players drilling in slow-motion, either. The offensive linemen hit blocking pads and worked against their defensive counterparts, receivers ran full patterns and, finally, everyone participated in an 11-on-11 situation. Pads and full contact were not allowed.

"I know they were tired of meetings," Gibbs said. "When we couldn't practice in the morning, we doubled up in the meetings. They were probably sick of hearing us talk. But I was impressed with their high level of concentration. They seemed to be a pretty intelligent group. At least, I didn't see anyone nodding off."

The Redskins picked up second- and fourth-round selections in their trade with the Rams this week. . . Washington finally signed quarterback Mike Kirkland, who has been with Baltimore and San Diego.