Maybe if the Redskin defense were improving more quickly, Wilbur Young's weight problem wouldn't be quite the issue it has become at training camp.

But as long as that defensive unit, especially the front four, is struggling, Young is going to remain on the spot. He has been told to lose some pounds, and lose them steadily, or at least his wallet will grow lighter as he pays the fines.

"We've got a long way to go, a very long way," said Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon, who is not given to exaggeration by nature. "It doesn't matter how we play the next week or the two weeks, I know the work that is ahead of us. But maybe that is good.If we were ready now, I'd probably be worried about it."

Part of the problem centers around the decision to change the pass rush from last year's passive, stand-at-the-line-and-read approach to an aggressive, read-on-the-run style. Many of the linemen are having trouble shedding their habits and going all-out for the quarterback.

And what about Young, the soft-spoken, 6-foot-6 tackle obtained in the offseason from San Diego for guard Jeff Williams? Washington knew it was acquiring a big man, but evidently not this big.

"He has the talent to play, he's shown that," Petitbon said. "It's too early to say I'm disappointed in him. But he's too heavy. He didn't report in the physical condition we had hoped. We'll get a good indication of how much he wants to play by how he gets his weight down. He certainly can't play at the weight he is now."

Young reported to camp at a robut 307. He says he has trimmed that to about 295. The Redskins want him at no more than 285. Soon.

"We wanted him in better shape, no doubt about it," said Torgy Torgeson, line coach. "He's shown flashes of what he can do, but he hasn't been consistent. When he loses the weight, he'll get better. Yo can see the improvement day by day."

But until he improves, Young will remain a backup to Perry Brooks, who has begun his second straight training camp as a starter. Petitbon says he won't "hand anyone a job," which is the reason ex-Colt Fred Cook still is playing behind Coy Bacon at right end. The Redskins keep waiting for both of the newcomers to dominate, but so far, it hasn't happened.

"Fred has gotten off to a slow start, too," Petitbon said. "With veterans, you usually have to wait until they play games, least that's what we are hoping. I'd hate to think this is as good as they are going to play."

Young has been in the NFL for 11 years, and for 11 years has been hearing about his weight. He says he could be effective at 300 or more, but teams "automatically think any defensive lineman that high can't do the job," he said. "It's okay for an offensive lineman to weigh that much, but we have to move more, so they want us lighter."

He has told the coaches that he has trouble losing weight, that he can play at a high weight but he'll be slimmed down soon, that it's still a long time before the season opener, so don't panic. But he admits he has lost the debate.

"I don't think they really listened, and then they said they wanted me slimmer now, so I'll get slimmer," he said. "I'm not out of shape. I worked hard in the offseason, preparing myself. I'm quick and my legs and knees feel great. I don't think I've ever felt better.

"But if they want me at 285, I'll get to 285. It won't be easy, but I'll get there. I know, though, that the best year I had was when I weighed maybe 290."

When you gain 10 pounds in a day or two just by eating standard meals, losing weight can be a problem. And to compound Young's difficulties, he says he has never seen better food than is being served at the Redskin training table.

"It's taking a lot of willpower to stay away from lunch and dinner, and then they have that 10:30 snack. I know I can make a pig og myself, it's really easy. But the food here is so good. It's easier to get down after camp is over. I'm a bachelor and I don't cook myself three meals a day.

"They aren't going to tell me I'm in shape. Theyhd be afraid I'd eat too much. But they shouldn't worry about me. When you are a veteran, you might go easy in practice a bit but when the games come, you go out and kill."

Young is more concerned that what he calls a bad label has followed him from San Diego. He asked to be traded from the Chargers, just as he had sought his departure from Kansas City. He felt he had good reasons to request both moves.

"Kansas City is just a bad organization and I never fit in at San Diego," he said. But he realizes he may have been typecast as a chronic complainer.

"San Diego buried me 10 feet under, n ot just six feet, and I haven't got myself uncovered yet," he said. "I had my best year in 1979 (with 14 sacks) and then last year, they didn't even give me a shot at starting. I haven't reached my full potential, even at 32, because I've always had something nagging at me mentally.If your mind is bogged down, the rest of you is bogged down, too."

Young, who makes a lot of his own pants as a hobby, reportedly once ran a 5.2 40 -- when he weighed 340.

"As a youngster, I used to be able to always run down the smaller kids but I never realized I was fast," he said. His quickness can be devastating. At some practices here, he has bolted into the backfield before his opponent could rise from his stance.

But first, he has to earn playing time.

"They're worried if I can go the distance in a game," he said. "I think by the time preseason is over, they'll know. Then they'll realize there was no need to worry in the first place."