It's still weeks before Danny White will hear the footsteps of an enemy pass rush; days before Dexter Manley might publicize his latest trip to the barber; and many hours before a defensive line coach here will call his veterans together for the first time.

Yet already, for the Washington Redskins' defensive ends, it's been a most noteworthy summer.

First, there was the news of veteran Tom Beasley's contract dispute, which has been successfully resolved. Beasley, 30, is expected to arrive here Saturday, but there's a catch. He now will spend most of his time down the line working at tackle, not at end, line coach Torgy Torgeson said today.

Then, there was the omission of veteran Tony McGee from the training camp roster. McGee, 36, who underwent offseason knee surgery, will be allowed to take a physical exam next month, but it doesn't appear likely he will return for another season.

The Redskins carry four defensive ends. Last season, Manley and Charles Mann were the starters, Beasley and McGee the reserves. Injured and unavailable were third-year man Todd Liebenstein and rookie Steve Hamilton.

Today, as the rookies and free agents went through their last few innocent drills before the return of the veterans this weekend, Hamilton suddenly stood out as a very necessary player. He never has been to the line of scrimmage in a regular-season pro game, but Hamilton is going through these drills for his second summer and is expected to be ready -- at least for third downs -- this fall.

Although Hamilton, 24, spent his senior season at East Carolina limping around on a gimpy ankle, the Redskins liked him so much that they allowed just 54 players to be chosen in the 1984 NFL draft before they picked him.

But, in keeping with the Redskins' recent luck with second-round draft choices, Hamilton fractured the ankle in the next-to-last exhibition game of 1984 and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

It's training camp time. Redskins, do you know where your top draft picks are? Defensive tackle Bob Slater, also taken in the second round in 1984, 24 players earlier than Hamilton, sits on a bench near the field, watching practice with a brace on his left knee. He will miss his second consecutive season.

And this year's top pick, cornerback Tory Nixon, sits somewhere in San Diego, his contract negotiations stalled. Apparently, he and the Redskins were no more than about $60,000 apart when the team took its offer off the table. Nixon wants about $1,040,000; the Redskins wanted to pay him about $980,000.

But Hamilton is paid -- and playing. When the Redskins drafted him, General Manager Bobby Beathard said he was "a top pass-rusher" like Manley and Mann.

Eventually, the Redskins will have to determine if Hamilton, who is 6 feet 4, 253 pounds, is a future starter. Now, he fits two roles: as a quick, crunching special-teams player; and as a powerful, bursting, novice pass-rusher.

"He was one of our best special-teams players when he got hurt last year," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "I think that's a real asset. It really helps us and it helps (people like him) make the team."

Hamilton never has shied away from extra work. He broke his ankle in the first quarter of the New England exhibition game, yet kept right on playing the whole game.

"I thought I had sprained it bad," he said. "It hurt, sure, but you have to have a certain pain tolerance to play the game, and I guess mine's kind of high."

Perhaps Hamilton saved himself a place on this team when he got hurt. It's all conjecture now whether the coaches would have kept him instead of McGee, or even reserve tackle Perry Brooks.

For this season, the conjecture continues.

"Steve's got a good shot at making it," Torgeson said, "but it's still early. Among the things Steve has going for him is his special-teams play. We usually keep four defensive ends, but I don't quite know how it will work this year with just a 45-man roster (down from 49)."

So he practices with the rookies, trying to become a veteran.

They called Hamilton "Hammer" at East Carolina. On his right calf, he wears a red and green tattoo: a hammer and two small lightning bolts.

"At home one summer, my brother and I decided to go do it," he said. "I think I picked a pretty good spot for it."