Coach Joe Gibbs' reaction to the arrest of safety Tony Peters on charges of conspiring to sell cocaine was the same as that of his Washington Redskins players.

"I was shocked," Gibbs said.

Gibbs, who was told of Peters' arrest by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke during a visit this morning to Cooke's Virginia home, said he is uncertain when Peters will return to camp. "I hope somebody made a mistake . . . Right now, other people know more than I do. We're just hoping everything works out," he said.

Cooke said later that Peters, who signed a $1 million, four-year contract in April, has elected to take a paid leave of absence from the team for an unspecified length of time.

Peters was arrested by federal agents today at training camp and charged with conspiring with seven others to sell $115,000 worth of cocaine in the Washington area. All eight men named are charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.

Peters was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond by a U.S. magistrate in Alexandria, Va., after which he declined comment to reporters. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 16.

According to a complaint filed in federal court, Peters was paid $3,000 by undercover agents for helping set up two drug sales this summer.

Gibbs informed the team of Peters' arrest in a meeting this afternoon. "What I said is between the players and I," Gibbs said.

Some Redskins players fear that the arrest of Peters and running back Clarence Harmon, Peters' roommate in camp who faces a third-degree charge of cocaine possession in Texarkana, Tex., may tarnish the defending Super Bowl champions' image. (Harmon was given the option of taking a leave similar to the one granted Peters, but chose to attend camp, Cooke said.)

"Certainly, that's what people will think," said free safety Mark Murphy. "But I don't believe that. The vast majority of the players on this team are still clean. There are a lot of role models on this team that parents could still want their children to grow up and be like."

DEA official David L. Westrate said in Alexandria, "We have no information of involvement by any other personnel of the Washington Redskins."

Darrell Green, the rookie cornerback from Texas A&I being pushed to assume a starting role in place of holdout starter Jeris White, learned of Peters' arrest only minutes after a noon meeting. He said, "Nobody said anything about it to us at the meeting."

Green and many other players were returning to their dormitory rooms in Adams Hall when reporters informed them of Peters' arrest, which occurred at 7 o'clock this morning.

"All I knew was that there was an empty seat at the meeting," Green said. "I had no idea where Tony could have been. I just can't believe this happened."

Richie Petitbon, assistant coach in charge of the defense, said, "At this point, it's still just an accusation. It would be kind of tough to lose a player of Tony's caliber, but if that happens it's just one of those things we'll have to live with."

Petitbon compared the possible loss of Peters with last year's loss of veteran defensive back Joe Lavender, who pulled a hamstring against Philadelphia in the season opener and was replaced by rookie Vernon Dean. "It should be a great opportunity for a young guy to step up and prove himself right away. Somebody's going to have to fill the void should Tony not return."

Larry Peccatiello, defensive coordinator, said he had no idea if Ken Coffey, Peters' backup at strong safety, would step into the vacated spot. "Even if we don't get Tony back, I'm really in no position to say anything about that.

Neal Olkewicz, middle linebacker, said, "It's hard to tell now whether they'll move Curtis Jordan to that position or go with Ken (Coffey). It's just a hard thing for us to go through. This kind of thing has been hitting a lot of teams in the NFL lately, but when it happens to somebody on the team, it's a rude awakening. It's so close."

Murphy's room is next door to the one shared by Peters and Harmon. Murphy and Peters were scheduled to work with weights together this morning at 9:30, but when he knocked on Peters' door at "about 8 o'clock, nobody answered. I thought maybe he'd overslept.

"If FBI or DEA agents came up early in the morning, I certainly didn't hear them. It's all been a pretty big shock. But I don't know how much this will throw us off. We've all become almost insensitive to it, it happens so frequently now to professional athletes. But I don't and can't understand why anyone would get involved in something like this.

"Last year was Tony's best ever. He had such a great year and made all-pro. There was so much going for all of us. I guess everybody in the secondary will have to take up the slack now," Murphy said.

Murphy attended as an observer a program at the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minn., that is designed specifically for dealing with drug and alcohol problems of professional athletes. He said he was trained "to recognize those players who might have a drug problem. I never would have suspected Tony would be involved. We're very close. He's not only a player, but also a very good friend of mine."

Murphy said because he and his teammates are in the "public eye, we're naturally much more visible to everyone. Professional athletes are placed in unique circumstances that must be dealt with. They make a lot of money, number one, but there's also great deal of pressure and job insecurity."

Quarterback Joe Theismann said, "I'm really in no position to comment right now. I don't know any of the details of what's happened to Tony and I just think it would be premature to say anything."

General Manager Bobby Beathard issued this statement: "This is obviously a personal matter with the player. But we'll offer him whatever assistance we can at the present time."