Now begins the Redskins season called re, as in rethink and rework -- and especially replace and reshape. Some familiar friends have taken their final snaps.

Looking ahead yesterday, Coach Joe Gibbs emphasized "taking a hard look at every part . . . seeing where we are as a team . . . encouraging some not to come back."

He added: "That happens after every season, but it'll be even more so this year."

A roster of Redskins who may leave of their own free will, or with a not-so-gentle nudge, includes John Riggins, Joe Washington, George Starke, Perry Brooks, Tony Peters, Mike Nelms, Jim Hart, Mark Moseley and Pete Cronan.

Gibbs probably will look harder at the offense than the defense, because points were off by 115 from last season's record production. Despite assorted injuries and a general rules disadvantage, the defense was 22 points stingier.

Specifically, Gibbs very likely will focus most intensely on running back. Riggins will determine his own course of action; Washington might not.

Washington is a model citizen and team stabilizer, but he also carried the ball less than quarterback Joe Theismann during the regular season and caught just 13 passes. Gibbs said Washington has endured five knee operations over an eight-year NFL career.

"It's something we need to talk about, have a good discussion," Gibbs said. "Joe's always amazed me. This year, I really was in doubt whether he would come back after everything. But he just persisted through all of it.

"That's one of the decisions I'm talking about." He sighed, as though already uncomfortable with the chore, days and weeks before it begins, and added: "There's a lotta guys that we'll be talking with. Some of the decisions they make will have great impact on the team."

Gibbs is firm about maintaining a one-back offense, for the practical reason that he might not have more than a single reliable runner.

"It's the position where we have the least amount of depth," he said.

Neither will he consider switching Art Monk to running back.

The issue was raised because Monk is versatile and durable, and was quite a fine runner at Syracuse. He would be a blitz buster coming out of the backfield, capable of catching swing passes Riggins routinely grabbed his first nine years in the NFL but rarely with Gibbs.

Besides, even though he broke the NFL season reception record with 106, Monk touched the ball an average of fewer than seven times a game.

Wouldn't a coach want such a talent more involved with the offense than one out of every 10 plays?

"I think just his presence (at wide receiver) helps the offense," Gibbs said. "I think he's just blossomed as a star where he is. He's done it every game, all the way through, and all the times we called on him for a big play he made it.

"How many guys can do that? I think a guy like that is invaluable where he is."

Gibbs does not believe Riggins will choose to return simply to be a battering ram near the end zone. Nor would he want Riggins on those terms.

If Riggins decides his body still has a significant contribution left, if not nearly 30 carries a game, Gibbs will welcome him with enthusiasm.

"I don't think that this year necessarily says he can't (still average two dozen or so charges a game)," Gibbs insisted. "I think what this year says is that he had a sore back and couldn't get over it."

Just in case, it would seem to one muddled mind that the Redskins' priorities would be:

(1) Running back.

(2) Running back.

(3) Offensive lineman.

Rather than collide with that head on, Gibbs mentioned the areas where the Redskins do not need immediate help: defensive line, wide receiver, tight end and quarterback.

"Anywhere else across the board," he vowed, "we'll be willing to take somebody."

Let's assume the Redskins covet a runner. What, if not who, might he be? A shifty, swift complement to Riggins? Or a sort of Riggins clone . . . ?

"Backs come in all different packages," Gibbs said, "and we'll just take a good one, really. Joe Washington has done very well with this (system). It'd be great to have a 24-year-old Joe Washington.

"But we'd be comfortable with whatever package. We'll adjust to him, just like we would on anything else."

Even though the offensive line was a major reason for late-season concern and playoff disaster, Gibbs suggests it will not get a drastic overhaul.

One of his first acts after losing to the Bears, Gibbs said, was to check with team doctors to see whether Jeff Bostic should be able to return in fine health. The report was positive.

That means Rick Donnalley would be free for extended time elsewhere, which Gibbs is "excited about."

Overall, Gibbs is disappointed but hardly discouraged.

"Things move very fast in the NFL," Gibbs said, "and if there's a thread that keeps coming up, people are going to stay with it."

Blitzes that nailed a nimble quarterback 21 times in the final three games seem more a rope than a thread.

"We were beaten once in the last five games," Gibbs replied. "If that's a thread, I'm comfortable with it. I think we're one play away from being in the (National Conference) championship game."

Gibbs has the refreshing notion that great teams need not crumble because of such parity-imposed restrictions as the draft and extremely limited free agency.

"I don't agree with the theory that there can't be a dominant team," he said. "But it's hard."