It began as a routine Redskin blocking drill, with veteran Fred Cook, the newly acquired defensive end, matched up against Mark May, the newly signed, high-priced rookie.

It almost turned into the first real fight of training camp.

Cook, trying to rush the passer, was blocked by May in normal fashion. But as the drill ended, May (6 feet 6, 270 pounds) got in one last shove. Cook (6-4, 252) objected and pushed back. Then another push, and another.

"Okay, okay, that's enough," said Line Coach Joe Bugel as the players eyed coach other through their facemasks.

They walked to the side but they didn't stop talking.

"If you want to fight, let's do it afterwards, outside," Cook told May, who wouldn't back away. Soon, they were matched again, and the duel became more a shoving match than a blocking test.

Later, they exchanged words in the weight room, even going through a boxing-like staring match.

And today was only the first Redskin practice for either player.

It was Cook's way of establishing his turf. He arrived here a bitter man over the way he feels he was treated by the Baltimore Colts. He says he has something to prove, especially to the Colts, and he wasn't about to back down to a rookie, even one of May's size.

"I was branded in Baltimore; they said I couldn't play anymore. But I won't admit that I fell off," he said. "Sometimes, you are put in a situation where you can't produce.

"This is a show-me year. I'm going to show a lot of people in Baltimore I can play. Sometimes, I wondered if they intended for me to have a bad year. Some of the things we were doing weren't solid and it looked like they wanted a fall guy, so that guy was me.

"I can't believe what they did to me. They tried to destroy my character and destroy my ability to play. They hurt my feelings. I had to get out. I wouldn't have gone back there to play."

Cook at first wanted to be traded to New Orleans, near his Mississippi home. But when that fell through, the Redskins became his next choice. He says the aggressive pass-rush system used by Washington is to his liking. "The people here are nice. They treat you fairly. You can trust them. In Baltimore, they are so intense, and they always are talking about people being over the hill."

The Redskins gave up a ninth-round draft choice to see whether Cook can still play. Although he has been a left end for most of his career, here he will paly the right side, where the bulk of the league's best pass rushers are situated.

If Cook, 29, can regain the form that produced 57 career sacks, Washington will be able to phase out ancient Coy Bacon, while slowly breaking in Mat Mendenhall and rookie Dexter Manley. And in the process, Cook could strengthen the inconsistent pass rush.

Last season was one of the most unproductive in Cook's seven-year career. Hindered by a wrist injury, he had only 66 tackles compared with 110 the year before. And his sacks dropped from 11 to two.

"I think Fred still has ability," said Torgy Torgeson, the veteran line coach. "He didn't have a good year last year but he'll fit in with how we are trying to do things. He likes to go after the passer. We'll just have to see how he progresses."

Cook believes that moving to the right side "is an advantage because I won't have the tight end to worry about. I can adjust to it easily. This system is very similar to what they used to use at Baltimore. They go after quarterbacks and that's what I like to do. Last year, they slanted away from the quarterback in Baltimore. Now how are you going to sack anyone if you are moving away from them?"

Cook paused. He wanted to shut off the flood of bitterness about the Colts, but as hard as he tried, he couldn't.

"I didn't come to Washington to put the blame on anyone or make excuses for myself," he said. "I'm man enough to accept what happened, but I'm also good enough to show them they were wrong.

"I mean, they were spreading the word that I was a troublemaker. I've never been a troublemaker. I went to Southern Mississippi during early integretion and I could have caused trouble. Instead, I was the first black captain and Mr. University of Southern Mississippi.

"They (the Colts) just didn't have any respect for me. It was a horrible experience last year; a nightmare. But once you get a label, it follows you. I've never done anything wrong as a Colt; I've never been fined, I've never been in trouble. I never did anything except fight now and then, just for the exercise.

"They made a very serious mistake, a real blunder. And I'm fired up. I can't wait for the season to get started."

Just then, May walked by, "Hey, big guy," May said, and Cook grinned.

"Breaking in a rookie?" he was asked.

"We just had a friendly conversation," Cook said, laughing.

"Me and Big George Kunz would go at it like in practice every day (in Baltimore). We'd give each other a real good workout. I hope he (May) will always come off the ball like that and make me work. I'm looking forward to it."

During a night scrimmage, Mark May became involved in a shoving match with defensive tackle Rich Dimler. The scuffle was quickly broken up . . . The Redskins and Colts will stage a rookie scrimmage Saturday at the Colt camp (Goucher College); it will be a controlled setup, with each club running 15 plays until the coaches decide to end things . . . May, as expected, worked mostly at right tackle, where he will play behind George Starke. On the left side, Jerry Scanlan is entrenched as Terry Hermeling's replacement . . . Coach Joe Gibbs praised Terry Metcalf, Art Monk, free-agent receiver Virgil Seay and rookie Dexter Manley for their play today.