Holdout running back John Riggins, as unpredictable as ever, paid a brief visit to the Washington Redskins' training camp yesterday in Carlisle, Pa., and is expected back today after he signs a new contract.

Riggins arrived at Dickinson College to talk with Coach Joe Gibbs.

Riggins' wife Mary Lou and their three children made the trip with him.

Riggins might practice with the team this afternoon. Anticipating his arrival, the Redskins have set a tentative date for the first Riggins news conference of the season: Tuesday at 11 a.m.

As the Redskins looked ahead to Riggins' return, they spent a rare day off looking back at an unsettling, 17-14 preseason victory over Atlanta.

Assistant trainer Keoki Kamau said starting strong safety Ken Coffey tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and will undergo surgery this afternoon at Sibley Hospital.

Owner Jack Kent Cooke said he "fully expects" Riggins to sign a one-year contract today. Riggins apparently is satisfied with the contract, which is worth slightly less than $1 million, according to sources.

It's likely that Riggins' meeting with Gibbs was the final stage in the negotiations.

It was not known exactly what they discussed, although Riggins' recent arrest on a drunk-in-public charge probably was one topic.

Gibbs was in a meeting with his coaches and unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon and evening, but last week he said: "Anything that happens that reflects back on the team will be dealt with. It's up to me to decide what discipline takes place. I think John understands that. It falls back on John and me, and we understand each other."

Riggins could not be reached for comment.

After his arrest July 25 by Fairfax County police, he told WJLA-TV-7 that he was innocent. "I feel badly that it causes embarrassment to my family and the Redskins and I'm sorry about that, but I'm innocent," he said, adding, "And it could only happen to me."

Riggins -- at 36 the oldest running back in the National Football League -- had been asking for a one-year deal believed to be worth as much as $1.5 million, according to sources. On July 29, the Redskins offered him a contract of about $1 million, which he apparently rejected a few days later.

It was unclear why Riggins now would accept a contract believed to be worth less than the earlier Redskins' offer.

Riggins, who gained 1,239 yards last season despite back and hip problems, apparently will remain the highest-paid Redskin. For 1983 and 1984, his two-year guaranteed contract, which included substantial annuities and deferred payments, totaled $1.6 million. This new contract apparently includes similar clauses.

The loss of Coffey might force the Redskins to realign the defensive secondary, particularly considering the likelihood that three rookies -- cornerbacks Tory Nixon and Barry Wilburn and free safety Raphel Cherry -- will make the final 45-player roster.

It's uncertain how much time Coffey will miss, but he could be out for the entire season. Gibbs said he thought Coffey might be out for 12 weeks, but added, "That's just a guess."

For now, though, Tony Peters, a former all-pro who was Coffey's backup in preseason, is expected to return to his old starting spot.

Peters missed the 1983 season after being suspended by the league for pleading guilty to two cocaine-related charges, but was reinstated last season, only to pull a stomach muscle and be placed on injured reserve in November.

Before training camp began, Gibbs called Peters "one of the key guys this season." Peters said after the Atlanta game that he is ready to accept that role.

"Ken being out just makes me want to work harder," he said. "It doesn't really change my attitude; it just hurts the team. But I guess for now it's my job. I'm sorry it had to happen this way, but now it's up to me to become the best strong safety in the league."

The Redskins waived veteran free safety Mark Murphy before training camp, so the loss of Coffey leaves very little experience behind first-stringers Curtis Jordan and Peters.

The emergence of Cherry, however, pleased the Redskins. "I saw a couple shots there, I'll tell you that," Gibbs said of the rookie's play against the Falcons. "We may have somebody back there who's for real."

At least three times Saturday night, Cherry, a former quarterback from the University of Hawaii, put a crushing hit on an Atlanta player.

The most important probably was the last, a head-first tackle of Falcons wide receiver Stacey Bailey just as quarterback Bob Holly's pass arrived during a last-gasp drive. Instead of a 20-yard completion, the ball fell to the ground.

But the Redskins were not so pleased that Holly completed a 58-yard scoring pass to rookie Emile Harry that closed the Falcons to 17-7 with 13 minutes remaining.

Rookie cornerback Garry Kimble was defending in man-to-man coverage on the play and appeared to be badly beaten. Peters, crossing from the other side, tried to help, but he was too late. It then was a foot race involving Harry, Cherry and Kimble, and Harry won it. Cherry and Kimble dove into each other as they tried to reach Harry in the end zone.

"That was the younger guys' first time out," Peters said. "The first game out of the box, you're going to make mistakes. They hit a couple big plays on us, but sometimes that happens.

"If you did everything perfect the first game, you'd be lulled into a false sense of security. In a way, it's good to make mistakes. Then you have something to work on."