If you were coaching the St. Louis Cardinals and the team you were playing Sunday had Dave Butz at one defensive tackle and a guy named Darryl Grant at the other, who would you test first?

"No question that with Butz there, I'd go after me," Darryl Grant said yesterday. "I wouldn't doubt they'll test me, wouldn't doubt it at all."

The Washington Redskins don't doubt it, either, though they don't anticipate the Cardinals altering their game plan so drastically they completely avoid Butz.

But even if that happens, the Redskins have little choice but to hope that Grant, their least experienced defensive player, won't be run over.

Perry Brooks, usually the starter at right tackle, is out four weeks with a sprained knee. Grant's backup, Pat Ogrin, has been in camp only three days; he was cut this summer. The Redskins also could move Mat Mendenhall over from defensive end, but would prefer not to.

"It comes down to this," defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon said. "Darryl has to hold up. We can't have it any other way and he knows it. And he will."

Before the strike, neither Grant nor his coaches would have been as confident.

He admits that the change from offensive guard to defensive tackle, which he began near the end of last season, proved frustrating and difficult. It took him weeks to feel even slightly comfortable; simply adjusting to a new stance was time consuming and irritating.

But now, after playing in five games, he's starting to become more relaxed, even if he admits that Sunday will be "an accelerated learning course."

"That's one thing in our favor," said Torgy Torgeson, the defensive line coach. "Darryl at least has been in games. If this was his first game experience, it would be a different story. Before the strike, I was using him to give both Dave and Perry a rest and he also was our nose man every time we used a three-man front.

"You know that Darryl will give you everything he's got. He hustles all the time. He's been a little over-anxious on defense and that is something we are trying to correct. He wants to do well so badly that he can overrun things and get suckered in. Experience is so important on the defensive line, there is no substitute for it. But maybe the only way to get it is to go through what Darryl has to on Sunday."

Ideally, Grant, 6-feet-1, 265 pounds, would have spent this season as Brooks' understudy while perfecting his role as an occasional nose guard. The Redskins were hoping their starting tackles could avoid serious injuries, especially in this strike-shortened season, that hurt inexperienced players the most.

"I just look at it this way," Grant said. "I've been in games already; the only difference now is more playing time and the fact I'll be over a guard more than a center. Otherwise, it shouldn't seem strange.

"All week, people have been telling me about starting, but it really hasn't struck me yet. Maybe it will two hours before the game, or maybe two minutes. Or maybe it never will. I've just tried to prepare the best I can."

Grant joined the Redskins two years ago as a ninth-round draft choice who never anticipated he'd play defensive tackle. He should have known his chances of settling into one position were slim.

In four years at Rice, he had played center, nose guard, linebacker and offensive tackle. He also snapped the ball on kicks. ("The quickest deep snapper I've ever scouted," General Manager Bobby Beathard said on draft day.) And during his first training camp, he watched a free agent, Chuck Allen, change from defensive line to offensive line to street clothes in a matter of days.

"When they wanted to move me from offense to defense, I didn't know what was happening," said Grant, who his rookie year played as both a backup offensive guard and No. 2 kick snapper. "Were they serious or was that the first step out of here for me, just like that other guy?"

The Redskins were serious, although they still worked Grant some on offense during prestrike practices. But Coach Joe Gibbs became convinced last year that Grant's aggressive play on special teams, where he is a standout, could be utilized especially well on defense.

Gibbs was enthusiastic about Grant's talents, and talked about him becoming an instant starter. But the transition proved too difficult. After a while, Grant wasn't worrying about starting, just surviving.

"The techniques were so different," he said. "And I was in such a hurry all the time. I'd overrun plays and get frustrated. I've been trying to slow down a step and stay under control. Things that I knew by playing offense didn't help me at all on defense. The older guys can pick things up, but so far I haven't been able to that much. There are so many things to remember and key on. It's a different world."

Sunday, Grant will be going against Terry Stieve, a six-year veteran on an offensive line that has improved dramatically this season. Grant says the way it's gone this week, he's felt as if he and Stieve were being paired in a boxing match.

"It's not just me and him," he said with a laugh. "Last time I looked, this was still a team game. I'll be surrounded by teammates and that's got to help."

The Redskins are preparing for a cold, blustery game in St. Louis . . . Guard Mark May, his neck still sore, apparently will start. "He'll be sore but he had a good practice today," said Joe Bugel, the line coach . . . The offense was ragged at times during yesterday's workout, but, Gibbs said, overall he was pleased with preparation for the game.