Only 13 other players in the National Football Conference have caught more passes than Art Monk, so he's hardly had a downbeat season.

But Monk and his Redskin coaches also realize he has the ability to do much better in years to come, especially if he can master the mysteries of bump-and-run coverage.

"I'm a little disappointed in myself about this season," said Monk yesterday. "I haven't played as well as I'd wanted to, but at least the team has come through with a good season.

"I know I can get better. I know what I have to improve on. It's just a matter of getting to work and doing it."

When Joe Gibbs, the offensive whiz, was hired as the Redskin coach, Monk realized what that could mean for him. Last season, Gibbs' San Diego Chargers had three receivers with at least 80 catches, and Monk envisioned at least a 60- to 70-reception output this year in Washington's revamped offense.

Although the Redskins have become one of the most prolific passing teams in club history, Monk's totals have paralleled his production during his rookie season last year. He had a team rookie record 58 catches for 797 yards and three touchdowns. In 1981, he has caught 54 passes for 796 yards and six scores.

"It's been a combination of things," Monk said. "There's been a lot of double coverage, especially in the middle of the season. Sometimes I just didn't catch the ball very well. And I've had trouble against the press (bump and run) since I came into the league.

"Most teams do it against me. They see films and pick out idiosyncrasies."

The Redskin staff has worked much of this season helping Monk overcome pressing defenses. "One of his minuses is that he has problems with all the little quickness things, like getting off the line against a press," Gibbs said. "He also has difficulty getting in and out of a move. He makes the move and then sometimes he's a little slow going from there.

"The thing is, his pluses overshadow those problems, which can be remedied. This guy is a big, strong, physical receiver who can make athletic moves for balls. He's a bona fide excellent downfield receiver, a real threat on long passes.

"Most guys can't be taught to catch deep like he can. Nor do they have his size or strength. You usually are blessed with that.

"That's why I think his best years are ahead of him, no question. He's got the gifts. He just has to work on some things. He can run after he catches the ball and he can deliver a blow on a block."

Quarterback Joe Theismann, who calls Monk "my Secretariat," said that "sometimes Art has concentration problems. You start wandering a bit out there, forget a little. But when he bears down, he's something. He can overpower defenders. He's my main man."

One of the reasons the Redskins would like to acquire a very quick receiver in the offseason is to take some pressure off Monk. Otherwise, defenses normally double team him, especially deep, and force Theismann to go to other targets.

"We've also spread out our passes this season," Gibbs said. "We've gone a lot to our backs. We'll do that if teams play us soft and take away our deep throws. We'll throw underneath to our backs until they adjust."

On Sunday, Baltimore decided to blitz frequently, leaving Monk with mostly single coverage. The result: seven catches for 148 yards (21 yards a reception).

"It was fun," Monk said. "That's the way you'd like it every game."

Mike Nelms, who already has broken the Redskins' combined-return yardage record, was named to the NFC squad for the January Pro Bowl for the second straight year . . . "I wasn't surprised but I knew it might be close between me and Leroy Irvin (Los Angeles Rams)," Nelms said. Irvin leads the NFC in punt returns; Nelms is tops in kickoff returns.