When Ken Olson woke up in Gaithersburg yesterday morning, he felt the tight grip on his neck beginning to ease. Last week, the Federals kicker and former member of the Frederick Falcons of the Interstate Football League blew a chance to beat the New Jersey Generals when he shanked a 33-yard field goal try with 11 seconds left.

But this week, as Washington prepared for today's USFL home game against the Tampa Bay Bandits (1:30 p.m., WMAL-AM-630), Olson "felt he was getting the confidence level where it should be." Even his buddy, Mark Moseley, the Redskins' kicker, stopped by the practice field to help him out.

All that was very nice until Coach Ray Jauch informed Olson at practice yesterday that, au contraire, Dale Castro--he who had the miserable training camp--would handle the kicking today.

Earlier in the week, Jauch scoffed at rumors that Castro would return to the Washington roster by comparing the reports to Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast of an alien invasion.

Apparently, the Martians have landed.

"Jauch told me he thought my confidence was low," said Olson, who is now on the 10-man developmental squad. "I'll tell you what. When the coaches don't have confidence in you, that really shoots it all to hell."

Castro becomes the Federals' fourth starting kicker, having been preceded by Obed Ariri, who beat him out in the team's Jacksonville camp; Dana Moore, who still handles the punting, and Olson.

When the Federals released Castro in February, the former all-America selection from Maryland expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms. Asked if he was still unhappy about his acrimonious departure from northern Florida, he said, "I'm happy now."

"He's got the big-college experience," Jauch said of Castro. "I hope he can hit for us under a little pressure."

In yesterday's workout, Castro hit three of six short-range field goal tries as the defense chanted his name to distract him.

"Cas-tro! Cas-tro!"

Some thought the scene had shifted to a square in central Havana, but there was nary a cigar in sight.

Jauch, while not impressed with Olson's kicking, said he was pleased to have Moseley advise one of his players. "I just hope it helps him." Jauch said. "I thought Ken wasn't doing very well this week."

Bobby Beathard, the Redskins' general manager, was not worried at all about the week's bit of cultural exchange.

"It's not any big deal to me if Mark wants to help (Olson)," Beathard said. "If they know each other, and Mark feels like helping a guy make a living, that's fine by me." When he was a sophomore at Salisbury State, Olson met Moseley at a football clinic.

Asked for his assessment of the Federals' play thus far, Beathard said, "I've never watched them. I have so little time as it is. Probably the last thing I'm about to do these days is turn on the television and watch a football game."

The kicking problem aside, the Federals enter today's game with more stability than ever before. Joe Gilliam will start at quarterback, backed up by Mike Hohensee, who appears to be over a debilitating case of influenza. The backfield of Billy Taylor and Craig James also looks promising.

Defensively, the Federals prepared for Tampa's pass-oriented offense. Although Bandits quarterback John Reaves broke his wrist last week and will not play for another six weeks, at least, his substitute, Jimmy Jordan, is a skilled passer.

"All I can do is tell Jordan to relax," said Coach Steve Spurrier, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. "Sure, he'll make some mistakes. I just hope he doesn't make any crucial mistakes. His lack of playing time is his biggest problem."

When the Bandits defeated the Federals, 20-7, in a preseason game, Jordan threw 13 times--completing six, one for a touchdown. His primary receivers are former Redskin Danny Buggs and Eric Truvillion.

Though they have yet to develop a consistent running game, the Bandits have a 5-2 record, and lead the Chicago Blitz in the Central Division by one game.