Dexter Manley was talking nicknames yesterday, something he hasn't done since he buried "Mr. D" in 1983.

"Actually," he said, "I'm through with nicknames. I had Mr. D, but he died in RFK Stadium at the 50-yard line one game."

Yet Manley realizes he now may be part of something even bigger than Mr. D.

The Washington Redskins' defensive right end has eight quarterback sacks, second in the National Football League to New York Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall, who, perhaps partially because of the attention paid to linebacker Lawrence Taylor, has 10.

And Redskins defensive left end Charles Mann ranks third in the league with 7 1/2.

Manley and Mann has a nice ring to it, Manley admits, but don't get him started on this nickname business.

"I'm going to be Dexter, the humble guy, the quiet guy," he said. "Maybe Charles can come up with a nickname. He hasn't been exposed to a nickname yet."

Mann laughed and said thanks, but no thanks.

So it was left to Manley after all.

"Call us the bookends," Manley said.

The bookends?

Manley and Mann actually have very little in common, other than football.

Manley enjoys telling opponents what he is going to do, and occasionally gets himself in hot water, as he did three weeks ago when he told a Chicago newspaper he was going to "knock Walter Payton out of the game."

Mann's world is a bit smaller. He allows only one person to hear his predictions: his wife Tyrena.

Mann had one of those feelings about the Oct. 7 game with St. Louis, and suggested they turn their VCR on to tape the game.

In the Redskins' 27-10 victory, Mann ran around 302-pound offensive tackle Tootie Robbins like he was a plump statue and finished with three sacks in perhaps his best game as a Redskin.

But he and Tyrena forgot to turn on the VCR.

"That's about the extent of my predictions, to tape a game," Mann said.

Manley, who has played two more years than Mann, his former backup at right end, talks as good a game as he is playing these days.

"This is my best start," Manley said. "I always start good, but I'm on a more steady pace and playing at a more consistent level. Every year I have a little slump, but I plan to have no slump this year."

Manley is well ahead of his sack pace of a year ago, when he had 13 1/2, fourth best in the NFC. Mann already has tied his best effort, which was last season, his first as a starter.

But, for Mann at least, this is no reason to celebrate.

"There's a tendency to say, 'I have arrived,' but I haven't," he said. "When you start thinking that, they key on you, and I don't want that. I'll keep a low profile and slowly but surely creep up on them."

Already, it's happened. After the St. Louis game, the Detroit Lions decided to double-team Mann with a tight end and a tackle. They often occupied Manley with a running back and the other tackle.

There were six sacks by the Washington defense, but just 2 1/2 belonged to Manley and Mann.

Which brings us to the entire defense, ranked second in the NFL to the Giants, another 3-3 team that the Redskins will play Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Meadowlands.

As Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said, "Sometimes sacks are not an indication of what you're doing, but they are something people pay attention to."

In its first four games, the Redskins' defense was busy with strategy and "wasn't making anything happen," said line coach Torgy Torgeson.

"We were concentrating so much on getting to certain gaps and holes and not really concentrating on football," Mann said.

So the coaches decided to go back to playing their basic defense, the man-to-man 4-3.

"If we beat our man, we got our job accomplished," is the way Mann described it. "Hey, we just come off the ball and play football."

Or, as Manley said, "It's no strategy. I want to get there (to the quarterback). I desire to get there. It's like if someone kidnaped my kid, I'd desire to get there."

The results have been crystal clear. In the last two games, both victories, the defense has forced 10 turnovers and had 10 sacks.

"We're playing so much more aggressively," Mann said. "We're not missing tackles and we're rattling the quarterback."

Mann and Manley sometimes tell each other that they'll meet on the other side of the ball, at the quarterback. But, more often than not, they're really competing with each other and keeping a silent count.

"After Dexter got his first sack against the Lions, he put the pressure on me," Mann said. "Then I got mine, so we were tied again, but he came back and got a half to go ahead. I knew exactly where we both stood, and so did he.

"Toward the end of the game, I kept begging the offense to let me back in for another shot, but they never did."

Offensive left tackle Joe Jacoby missed most of practice yesterday when he twisted his right knee on the artificial turf at Redskin Park in a one-on-one drill. Jacoby said he got his foot caught in the turf and strained the knee.

"It's a day-to-day thing," he said of practicing, but he expects to be ready to play Sunday.

Ironically, Jacoby's injury made room for Jeff Bostic on the offensive line, at least in practice. Bostic, a Pro Bowl center who still is on injured reserve, moved to left guard for the day and guard Russ Grimm moved to left tackle.

Gibbs said the injury "increases" Bostic's chances of returning to the active roster for Sunday's game. With guard R.C. Thielemann out with a torn ligament in his right knee, the Redskins have just seven offensive linemen.

"Obviously, getting Jeff to work like that today makes it much more likely (he will be activated)," Gibbs said, adding he still plans to wait until Friday to make that decision.

Cornerback Vernon Dean (bruised right thigh and knee) also missed practice yesterday, although Gibbs said Dean probably will return today.