Now, more than ever, the spotlight is on Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and it seems hot enough to draw not only his sweat, but his blood.

On the week in which Theismann begins his 11th professional season in Washington, preparing to break club passing records held by Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen, he is pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

To illustrate the fact that Theismann is not talking with the press this season, the magazine superimposed two strips of tape over his mouth.

Further, Shari Theismann, the quarterback's estranged wife, is pictured on the cover of September's Washingtonian magazine, shown holding in each hand a torn half of an old edition of that magazine that pictured Joe Theismann on the cover.

Among other things, Shari Theismann was quoted by Washingtonian as saying, "I know what I want. Not someone who gives me 100 percent. Just someone who loves me as much as they love themselves."

Theismann, who will turn 35 in eight days, declined to comment on the situation yesterday. He speaks to the media only after games now.

After the Redskins' 14-9 preseason victory at New Orleans last Saturday, Theismann spoke of being able to spend more time on football and other important matters this season because of spending less time with the press.

"I should have done this years ago," he said. He also noted, "I haven't exactly gone Steve Carlton." Carlton is the baseball pitcher who refuses to speak with the media at any time.

In the Redskin Park locker room, teammates have made mock bets on whether Theismann's silence will last; one player listed the odds at 30 to 1 at the start of training camp, then lowered them to 16 to 1 upon hearing that Theismann planned to speak after games.

Most of all, though, two things seem obvious even to the casual Redskins observer: Theismann is performing on the field as well as ever and his mood has not undergone any outward change.

Those closest to him in the organization say that Theismann is worried about how his marital problems will affect his three children, ages 12, 10 and 5.

They say that he remains befuddled at wide receiver Charlie Brown's statements that there were times in the 38-9 Super Bowl loss to the Los Angeles Raiders when Brown was open and either the ball wasn't thrown to him or was thrown off course, by Theismann.

No one in the organization, however, seems to worry about how Theismann will react to the added pressures.

"I don't think people need to worry about Joe. He can take care of himself," said kicker Mark Moseley, one of Theismann's best friends on the team. "He's a survivor. When he jumps off a roof, he'll land on all fours."

"You know, Joe's always seemed to be able to do so many things at once," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "I've never seen it affect his football."

Coach Joe Gibbs said, "If we don't do well this year, I can't envision it being because Joe didn't do his share.

"First of all, I think most quarterbacks that have been around for a while have been subjected to a lot of pressure. I think they develop a way of coping with that.

"(Theismann) has experienced an MVP year (last season), a Super Bowl year and he's also experienced some real down times and some real low times . . . I feel like we've become close with each other and I can tell when he's concentrating on football. He's had a sharp preseason.

"Sometimes he's like everybody else and he gets down. It's funny with him because when he gets down, the whole coaching staff can tell. (So far) it seems like he's had a real drive and wants to do well."

Gibbs said he was surprised to learn that Theismann, whose relationship with the media throughout his career has seemed akin to Romeo's with Juliet, had stopped talking.

"But I could understand what happened," Gibbs said. "I think Joe has always had a longstanding obligation because of all the things he did with the media and because maybe it is his future career, or something.

"He always felt like he had to be the guy who took every question to the bitter end from everybody who wanted to talk to him. After a while, it gets to be a big burden.

"I felt like Joe felt that last year, because of the Super Bowl and all of the interviews and all that happened, he wore himself out. I think there was a reaction where he said, 'I just want to relax and spend some time with football.' "

The timing of his silence makes it seem that Theismann is blaming the press for his performance in the Super Bowl. Theismann completed 16 of 35 passes for 243 yards, threw two interceptions and was sacked six times.

"I don't think Joe was blaming the press," Gibbs said. "It was just something that happened."

Since his first season as Redskins coach in 1981, Gibbs said that he has cautioned Theismann continually to make sure he devotes enough time to football.

Theismann ever seems on the move, making speeches here, endorsements there.

"I've seen a lot of politicians on the go like that," Moseley said, "but never a football player."

Gibbs first spoke with Theismann on the subject at the outset of the 1981 season, when the Redskins lost their first five games.

"At that point, things were not going well and, of course, when that happens, you look for answers," Gibbs said. "I'm convinced a lot of that (losing) wasn't Joe. A lot of things were going on around us and with the team.

"At that point, I was just getting to know Joe and I asked him, 'How important is football to you?' I think I said, 'All I'm looking for is someone who will be a great quarterback and will be dedicated to that.'

"In other words, I wasn't looking for someone who was going to be a businessman. I'm looking for a quarterback, that's all, because I'm staking my future on that person.

"After we had that talk, Joe clarified for me where football stands in his life, how important it is. After that conversation, we had a better understanding of each other and things seemed to take off from there."

Gibbs said that he cautioned Theismann again this year about overextending himself off the field.

"I think Joe is the kind of guy who gets bored a little . . . I think he always needs challenges to be excited," Gibbs said.

Gibbs also said that he has told Theismann and other players to keep straight their priorities in life. "You can get those all screwed around," Gibbs said. Is that what happened to Theismann, Gibbs was asked.

"No, definitely not," he said. "But that could happen with a guy like him because he is so sought after and does so many things.

"He's a very unusual guy. I'm sure glad we've got him," Gibbs said, before punctuating and concluding his talk with the obvious: "I don't think there are many like him."

Defensive tackle Darryl Grant returned to practice yesterday, testing a sprained right knee.

Grant had not participated in team drills since he was injured in the New Orleans preseason game.

Although Grant is listed as questionable for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Miami Dolphins at RFK Stadium, trainer Bubba Tyer said Grant should be able to play.

If he doesn't, Perry Brooks will start alongside Dave Butz, leaving the Redskins with no experienced reserves at defensive tackle.

Mark Clayton, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound second-year wide receiver, has been elevated to a starting position this week by the Dolphins.

He moves ahead of six-year veteran Jimmy Cefalo, who missed most of last season with a knee injury but was listed ahead of Clayton on the preseason depth chart.

Clayton averaged 15.3 yards per catch on four preseason receptions. Cefalo caught seven for a 16.0 average.