Ken Jenkins is fairly realistic, aware that at 5 feet 8, 185 pounds, he has certain limitations.

"I felt my only chance to make it in this league was as a kick returner," he said yesterday.

And make it he has. He is ranked second in the NFC in punt returns (12.5 yards per return) and seventh in kickoffs (23.7).

Mike Nelms, who became a fixture on the Redskins as the team's kick returner for the previous five seasons, was let go before the season. After some trial and error and injuries to other people, the Redskins signed Jenkins Sept. 10.

"He's done great, very good, excellent, a pleasant surprise," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We were trying to find someone who could play another spot (other than returner). It took us a while but we found Kenny (a halfback) and we like him. He looks good, and holds onto the ball tight, which I like."

Actually, the Redskins have known of Jenkins for a while.

"When I came into the league, the reason I didn't take the Redskins' free-agent offer was because Mike Nelms was established here at the time," said Jenkins, who spent 1982 on Philadelphia's injured reserve list and then '83 and '84 with the Detroit Lions.

"We were getting ready for Detroit last year," said Wayne Sevier, the Redskins' special teams coach, "and that big game (281 all-purpose yards) he had against the Eagles was on the film. It was sort of unanimous after that. Once Ken Jenkins became available to us, there was no doubt in our minds that we wanted to bring him in and give him an opportunity to perform."

If there was no doubt in the eyes of the Redskins' brain trust, Detroit's first-year coach, Darryl Rogers, had enough doubt to cut Jenkins this fall.

Jenkins, a Wheaton native and graduate of Landon high school, does not view that as one of the smartest things ever done, especially with the Lions' Billy Sims injured.

"There weren't any tailbacks better than me, it was just that the new coaching staff decided to go with other people," said Jenkins, who played the position at Bucknell. "Then, once Wilbert Montgomery came (from the Eagles), I guess that made me expendable. It was really stupid on their part because I could return kicks, punts and play running back. They shouldn't have cut me. No doubt."

In the Detroit press guide, Jenkins is quoted as saying "I just want our coaches to believe in me and have confidence with me in the lineup."

That confidence obviously never developed. But it has in Washington, though the degree depends on who you ask.

"I think I'm gaining their confidence," Jenkins said. "But it's a long season and you have to play week in and week out. At the end of the season when the coaches get to their evaluations and go through the lineup, hopefully they'll say, 'We're okay here, we're solid here because of Ken Jenkins.' Their confidence in me is growing but it's not solidified just yet."

Said Sevier, "There is no question about him gaining our confidence. I don't know what Detroit saw or didn't see. Everybody has different things they're looking for. Doesn't mean they're wrong and we're right. We're just very happy to have him and glad he's not in Detroit."

Besides getting to play in front of friends and family, Jenkins said he's much better off here in the long run.

"It's the best thing that ever happened in my career," he said. "If I can stay four or five years, it would be great. Once football is over, there are plenty of other opportunities to continue working."

He plays the saxophone, and would like to try broadcasting. Along with his sister, Roxanne, and a business associate, Denise McClellan, Jenkins runs a dance studio in Washington.

"They are doing most of the teaching and administration now, but I'd like to do more," Jenkins said of Rhythm & Motion, the nonprofit operation housed in the Trinity Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington. "We want to grow and expand to other forms of art. We're planning a fund-funding drive so we can give scholarships to those who can't afford to pay, and eventually we'll have our own storefront."

Linebacker Monte Coleman has been scratched from Sunday's game against the Browns in Cleveland, Gibbs said after yesterday's practice in which Coleman watched in sweats after slightly reinjuring his right hamstring Wednesday.

"It's a setback," trainer Bubba Tyer said. "Maybe he needs a little more work on the Cybex machine to improve his strength so next time that won't happen."

Gibbs said he expected tackle Joe Jacoby (strained right knee) and wide receiver Art Monk (sprained left shoulder) to be able to play Sunday. Defensive end Tom Beasley is doubtful, according to Tyer, because of a groin pull.

With Coleman remaining on the injured reserve list, linebacker Chris Keating came back to the team. "I got home (to Boston) at about 1:30 in the afternoon (Wednesday after being released) and they called back at 3 o'clock. I got home for dinner at least," Keating said with a laugh. "You just have to keep a sense of humor and take it day to day."

Humor also is the idea behind the "Assassin Game" being played by about 35 Redskins, including some of the coaching staff. Each player pays $20 to enter. The idea is to "kill" other players, using a plastic gun that shoots suction-cup darts. An "assassin" gets $5 for shooting another player, and once shot, the participant is out of the game. The last player gets the money left over, which should be $530. One rule is that no one can be shot within a block of Redskins Park.