Amid concern about Joe Washington's health, inconsistent team defensive performances and an 0-4 exhibition record, the Washington Redskins' most pivotal player has enjoyed probably the quietest training camp of his career, if the space surrounding Joe Theismann ever can be considered truly quiet.

Unlike a year ago, Theismann is not sulking over his financial dealings with the team. A new four-year, $1.4 million contract solved that problem. He is working behind a more mature front line, he's more familiar with Joe Gibbs' modernistic offense and he's eased off-field pressure by not outwardly opposing the players' union.

And he remains bubbly and optimistic.

At 33, after three full years of starting experience, Theismann must now either advance to the next level of excellence or resign himself to being one step below the league's elite quarterbacks.

"I guess you could say the flower has grown and now it hopefully is at the stage where it's ready to bloom," said Theismann yesterday after the Redskins' final full-scale practice for their Sunday opener at Philadelphia. "I just don't want that flower to become a dandelion."

At times last year, he was a rose. He had the second best season, statistically, of any Redskin quarterback, passing six times for more than 250 yards and breaking the team record for completions. But he had too many interceptions (career-high 20) as well as a tendency to try to force great things when the less spectacular would have been wiser.

"Maybe that's where I hope I've changed the most," Theismann said. "When I was younger, out of the 10 spectacular things I'd try, three would be great and seven would be garbage. Now, one is great, seven put us in a good situation and two might be garbage.

"You don't try to do as many splashy things, like trying to scramble or force a big pass. Instead, you try to save field position, you try to lose as little yardage on sacks as you can, you make better decisions whether to throw the marginal pass.

"I like to think of it as learning how to react to a situation instead of trying to create a situation. I don't feel like I have to make the big play in order for us to win every game. Of course, the quarterback has a certain role to play, but it's up to me not to force things that unnecessarily extend that role."

Theismann said he learned much about himself last season. "I found that sometimes I wear my feelings on my sleeve. In some cases, people don't care how you feel. It's best to deal with the situation yourself without making it a public thing. Looking back at it, I'm a little bit embarrassed about some of the ways I acted."

He said "the three hours or so I spent with Mr. (Jack Kent) Cooke, when we negotiated the final contract, were very enlightening and educational in a positive sense. I learned an awful lot in a short period of time."

He also made some extra money in the bargain, probably as much as $60,000.

Theismann already had agreed to accept Cooke's "final" offer, even though it was substantially below the player's original proposal. Cooke, in his best showman's fashion, dramatically told Theismann that the Redskins' last offer had changed. But quickly, before Theismann could speak, Cooke told him he was offering a good bit more.

For that extra $60,000, Cooke wound up with a very pleased quarterback instead of the bitter one who had begun the negotiations earlier in the day.

"Things could have turned out a lot differently," Theismann said. "But I'm glad they didn't. I wanted to stay with this team and with Joe Gibbs and here I am. Things now are right on schedule. I was pleased with my progress in the preseason and with the way the offense came along. We didn't win but we didn't go backwards either. We cut down on our mistakes. If we can keep doing that, we'll be competitive."

Still, Theismann's situation isn't completely settled. Art Monk could be on the verge of becoming one of the league's better receivers off his training camp work this summer. But leapin' Charlie Brown just became a starter on the other side this week. And neither Brown nor rookie Mike Williams, the second tight end in the two tight end offense, have played in a regular season pro game.

"There is always a period of adjustment for everyone," Theismann said. "The best thing that could happen to both Charlie and Mike is that they take a good hit early. That'll get 'em settled. As for me, I'm ready. I feel like a young colt."

Some things never change.

The Redskins, concerned that both of their centers (Jeff Bostic and Russ Grimm) aren't 100 percent, resigned veteran Gary Puetz yesterday and waived guard Melvin Jones, a 1980 No. 7 draft choice from Houston who started 11 games last year . . . "We felt we needed someone like Gary who could play tackle, center and guard," Gibbs said. "Melvin just could play guard." Jones was beaten out by veteran Fred Dean for the backup guard spot in camp, while Mark May now is the starting right guard . . . Puetz was cut last Friday to make room for defensive end Tony McGee.