DEXTER MANLEY: His night's work was brief, maybe a half against Cincinnati, because the coaches know him and they want to see if anyone else can play. Exhibition games are laboratory tests of unknown and untrustworthy players. The Redskins want to win, to satisfy their habit, but mostly they want to know who can help, in the coaches' inelegant phrasing, at gut-check time.

Sweat popped out around Manley's new hairdo, a Mohawk about which the less said the better, except to point out its unfortunate arrival coincides with his ascension to celebrity. Now he signs his name, "Mr. D," and the young man who wore faded jeans as a fifth-round draft choice two years ago now comes to the locker room in suit and tie, toting a leather briefcase.

The Redskins' 27-23 victory over Cincinnati Friday was an hour old when someone asked Manley if the reports of his contract money were accurate, that he will earn $600,000 in three years.

A considering pause. "Nawwww."

"Supposedly," he was told, "you turned down $1 million from the Blitz."

Manley later would say dollars weren't important, that he admired the Redskins for standing behind Tony Peters, and that he wants to be part of a great organization.

"Naw, if it was a million, I'd have gone over there," Manley first said. TOM OWEN: He's a gunslinger, 10 years on the road, hired out as a backup quarterback. A sundowner's countenance: fading freckles, a reddish mustache, fine golden hair, dancing blue eyes. A realist's philosophy: "If you can't play, you can't stay." This night when Dexter Manley gets rich, Tom Owen tries to get a job.

If the Redskins carry a third quarterback behind Joe Theismann and Bob Holly, they likely will keep Owen or rookie Babe Laufenberg. Working against Cincinnati, Owen completed five of 11 passes for 46 yards. He fumbled once, threw an interception--and didn't get younger.

Unless Owen separates himself from Laufenberg, the Redskins likely will keep the kid, hoping he improves, while they already know Owen's limits. In Owen's first game in a year, he gave the Redskins small reason to think he could replace an injured Joe Theismann.

John Riggins was sensationally quick this night; the Hogs were strong as ever; Art Monk ran well before a slight knee sprain; Joe Washington, very good in practice, is money in the bank waiting his turn to work, and the first-team defense was good enough although the secondary is suspect, as all young secondaries are.

But Theismann is the most valuable Redskin and without him, the offense would become so dependent on short-yardage plays that defenses would stack up against them. Cincinnati cornerback Louis Breeden once tried to pole-ax Theismann on a scramble; he failed, but the attempt was a vivid reminder of a quarterback's peril.

"How'd you think you did?" someone said to Owen.

The Kansan tugged on his cowboy boots. "That'll be up to the coaching staff. It's out of my hands."

One pass by Owen flew east while his receiver turned west. "I thought one thing and he thought another." Owen smiled crookedly. "Thought's for thinkers. We're supposed to be doers."

He'd read in the papers that the Redskins coaches were testing him. They told him as much. Not that it made any difference. "Anytime you step on the field, it's pressure. It isn't like this is the first time anybody said you have to do it. Hopefully, it won't be the last." JEFF HAYES: "It's perform or get out of town," he said. The night Dexter Manley gets rich, Jeff Hayes gets to stay in town. With punts of 52, 43, 51 and 52 yards, Hayes likely kept his job when just a week ago he seemed headed for the punter's purgatory where failed kickers float from town to town hoping to find work.

"Punting is like quarterback," Hayes said. "People pay $13 and they don't expect to see nine-yard flops off the side of your foot and a 29-yard average . . . You kick it nine yards and the coaches give you the eye. The players, they just kind of look away, like they're saying, 'Oh, no.' "

Hayes did those pathetic numbers a week ago. He's 24, a second-year player whose work has been marked by inconsistency maddening to Redskin coaches. Some days he hits punts over the lights, other days he can't make the thing spiral. This summer, the Redskins signed three punters to challenge Hayes, just as they put Mark Moseley on alert last year.

It's a family, the Redskins like to say. Everyone knows it's a business first. You can be part of the family as long as your hang time is 4.2 or better. Last week, Wayne Sevier, special teams coach, worked with Hayes. Shorten your first step, Sevier said. Get your drop back a little, he said. We have to have you kicking well, he said.

Hayes also kicks off, but the coaches told him they were going to try other men at that against Cincinnati. If they were to cut him, they needed to find a kickoff man. Tough family.

"This was the longest week of my life. Waiting seven days to get back in there . . . I knew I'd done as bad as I could do and I had to do better. So I didn't panic. There was pressure, sure. I read the paper all week and the coaches told me, 'We need you.' I just knew I had to go out and do a good job."