At last, free safety Curtis Jordan of the Washington Redskins has admitted the reason he continues to wear that diamond stud earring in his left lobe.

"Down deep," he said, "I think I want to be a pirate."

Curtis Jordan, 30, is a lot of things. He is, in no particular order: 1) a comic locker room character, 2) a Texan, 3) the Redskins' leading tackler this season and 4) the eighth-year pro who is known, he says, "as the guy who replaced Mark Murphy."

"I'm also a pizza magnate," Jordan said with a smile. He and punter Jeff Hayes own two Italian restaurants in Northern Virginia. "In fact, I've made a lot of the pizza sauce myself," he said. "I was taught the secret recipe for the sauce last year because the (restaurant founder) didn't want to tell the other cooks the recipe. No, I can't tell you the recipe or I'll end up wearing cement boots."

When the eyes and scowls of Tom Landry's Texas are upon these Redskins, there's always Curtis Jordan around to remind the Redskins of the flip side.

"Curtis is getting almost to where he's on one of those Riggo type of mental planes," strong safety Ken Coffey said yesterday, not quite sure if this was a compliment.

When the Redskins played Dallas at Texas Stadium this time last season -- both teams had 12-2 records and sought the home-field advantage for the playoffs -- the Redskins' fear was that the secondary would melt under the heat of quarterback Danny White's precision passing.

Now that they are ready to venture inside Texas Stadium again Sunday afternoon, that fear doesn't exist. Their pass rush has been causing maximum pressure, with a league-high 58 sacks. Also, there seems a reborn confidence in the secondary.

Opponents have not completed more than 50 percent of their passes against the Redskins the last four weeks. While cynics could point out that those four opponents were such mediocrities as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo, it also could be pointed out that the Redskins weren't holding teams of any ilk below 50 percent last season.

And a lot of this success has to do with Jordan, who has intercepted two passes, and, in an early season victory over the New York Giants, returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown. He is a natural free safety, forced to play strong safety last season because of injuries. Consequently, instead of roaming free, his responsibility last year often was to cover the tight ends and lend run support.

He broke a thumb last season. His shoulders hurt so much that both were operated on in the offseason. Then there was the time wide receiver Cliff Branch of the Los Angeles Raiders beat him for that 99-yard touchdown play. Jordan went for the sucker fake off a run.

"I started overplaying everything last year; I was really pressing," said Jordan, who broke his thumb again this year and had to wear a fiberglass cast four games. "It's a matter of confidence. I'm not hesitant now."

Defensive Coach Richie Petitbon, never easy to please, said of Jordan: "He's played well under the circumstances. It's hard to do things with that broken thumb. I really don't have a clear fix on what he can do yet."

"Curtis has really responded," Coach Joe Gibbs added. "Curtis jumped in there and has played well for us since Murf's been out, and Murf was out for a long time."

Murphy, an all-pro last season, hurt a knee at San Francisco in the second game of the season. His 26 tackles led the team.

Murphy missed nine games and was reactivated from injured reserve three games ago. He has not regained his starting spot, unlike linebacker Rich Milot, who was replaced for three games in midseason by Monte Coleman while recovering from an elbow injury.

Most of all, this is a compliment to Jordan.

"We felt that with the way Curtis has been playing, that was the decision to make," Gibbs said. "Murf is standing there ready to go, to help us when he can now."

Gibbs said that, come training camp, Murphy and Jordan will again compete at free safety. Murphy, 29, has tactfully said that he will now do whatever is required of him.

Jordan said, "Murf and I are good friends. I have all of the respect in the world for him. I know this is hard on him. You hate to obtain a position through injury, but I guess that's the business. In my mind, this is the chance that I had been waiting for."

The feeling among coaches is that Jordan's speed (about 4.65-4.7 seconds for 40 yards) is better than Murphy's. Jordan's problem, he admits, has been with the signal calling.

Ask Petitbon to describe Jordan's signal calling and he says simply, "Improving."

"Really, this is my rookie year of signal calling," Jordan said. "You get out there in a game and sometimes Richie waits until the huddle breaks and then whips off the signal real quick."

Jordan's humor isn't forced or contrived. It's just Texas-dry. Yesterday, he was quick to point out that all four of the Redskins' current starters in the secondary (cornerbacks Darrell Green and Vernon Dean, strong safety Ken Coffey and Jordan) are native Texans.

"Yeah," Jordan said, "and we all do rodeos in the offseason, too."

Ask him about his success this season and he will sit back at his locker, stroke his beard and drawl, "Well, it all began when I was born one cold day in Lubbock, Tex."

Jordan can laugh now, because he knows how bad football times can be. He spent his first five seasons with the expansionist Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"When we would come out of the tunnel back then, we made sure never to stand next to (Coach John) McKay, because the fans threw Coke and beer at him," Jordan recalled. "In Tampa, we would never go out to dinner, or even go out in public. I remember after the fourth game of the '76 season, they cut eight guys and four were starters."

Typically, he said, "All I know is that there are only two kinds of people: Texans and people who want to be Texans." Presumably, Jordan wasn't including a certain 49 Dallas Cowboys in this most exclusive group.

Once again, wide receiver Charlie Brown did not practice yesterday. Brown is bothered by what team trainer Bubba Tyer describes as a "mild sprain" of his left knee and is listed as "probable" (75 percent chance he will play).

"We'll probably have to wait until warmups on Sunday," Gibbs said. "That decision is up to Charlie."