Who would have thought that a 23-year-old quarterback named Raphel Cherry from the University of Hawaii would become a possible replacement for recently waived Mark Murphy at free safety?

What were the chances that a defensive back who was spotted guarding two Ole Miss receivers being scouted by assistant coach Charley Taylor would be one of those viewed as most likely to succeed at the Washington Redskins' training camp?

And, would you ever have expected a University of Texas running back taken in the 10th round of the draft to become an eye-catching man in motion in one week?

These are the some of the surprises of the Redskins' training camp. Little more than a week ago, Cherry, cornerback Barry Wilburn and H-back Terry Orr, among dozens of others, arrived at Dickinson College hoping to start professsional careers.

Saturday afternoon in Foxboro, Mass., they and their peers still will be plugging away.

The Redskins' rookie and free-agent scrimmage against the New England Patriots' rookies at 1:30 p.m. at Sullivan Stadium is, according to Coach Joe Gibbs, the most important event to date of summer practice.

Although it is next to impossible to tell most of these 54 players apart without a scorecard, a few stand out.

There is, for example, the battle between young quarterbacks Jay Schroeder and Babe Laufenberg. Schroeder has been working ahead of Laufenberg in most drills, but Gibbs said he has not decided who will "start" Saturday.

The coaches are particularly interested in seeing how a surprising secondary, led by Cherry, Wilburn and cornerback Garry Kimble, will do. Cherry was drafted in the fifth round, Wilburn in the eighth and Kimble in the 11th. They haven't made the coaches forget holdout cornerback Tory Nixon yet, but they're trying.

Cherry has won raves in calling defensive signals in practice. A former quarterback, he has the buzzwords down pat: "Pattern recognition."

"I sometimes have a tendency to react too quickly because I think I know what the quarterback's trying to do," he said.

A safety with a sixth sense.

Wilburn brings certain hard-earned, practice-field smarts to his job at left cornerback. After he played defense against his two Mississippi teammates as Taylor watched, the Redskins decided to draft him, not the other guys.

Kimble, another cornerback who figures to have as good a chance of making the 45-man roster as any 11th-round selection, has broken up enough passes in a week to build up a nice collection of compliments.

"You hear it once, you want to hear it again," he said of a coach's kind word.

Orr, the former Texas running back, was praised at an evening practice Wednesday by Gibbs.

"I hope that's positive," Orr said. "The coaches usually never say much. You know, this is a different experience, a different kind of life."

Some life. The required reading for most is the playbook. When asked what they do in their off hours, some answer very quickly: "Pray."

If they aren't awakened by a knock on the door, they know they have survived another day. That day is a rough one. "It's kill or be killed," said Reggie Branch, a free-agent fullback from East Carolina.