Mike Nelms, the Washington Redskins' all-pro kick returner, has been moved permanently from strong safety to wide receiver, Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. He will continue returning kicks.

Gibbs said he doesn't expect to use Nelms at his new position in Saturday's playoff game against Detroit. But he said if Nelms "got two or three days work and feels comfortable, he might be able to play some next week."

Gibbs admitted injuries to wide receivers influenced his decision to make the move now, instead of waiting until next summer's training camp.

"I think it will be a new challenge for Mike," Gibbs said. "He hasn't been playing much on defense behind Tony Peters, and I think we have to put him in the best spot to help him and the team. We've been thinking about this for a long time. It will be a new lease for him."

Nelms likely will be used mostly as motion man in the Redskins' one-back offense. That's the spot that injured Art Monk played on third downs and that tight end Rick Walker plays on early downs.

Gibbs first talked near the end of last season about moving Nelms to wide receiver. But the plan was canceled after the draft, in which the team picked Carl Powell on the third round and tight end Mike Williams on the fifth. Powell was cut in camp and Williams, now on injured reserve with a bad knee, didn't develop as a man in motion as quickly as the Redskins anticipated.

Nelms, who has played defensively this season only in short yardage and goal line situations, said the move excited him. "It's new and different," he said. "I haven't played wide receiver since high school. I think I possess the attributes to be a pretty good receiver . . . Now it's a matter of getting used to the patterns and the feel of the position.

"If I play at all, it will be with a few specific plays that I've been given. The real work will come in training camp."

Gibbs said, "We'll keep an eye on him. We don't want this to detract from his return duties. If he gets tired (returning kicks), we can cut back on his offensive duties. It's just something we have to see develop."