This is the autumn of Calvin Muhammad's strange content.

Just four weeks ago, he was a starting wide receiver for the Washington Redskins.

Last week, were it not for kickoff coverage, he would not have played at all against the Cleveland Browns.

He has been demoted, and, what's even worse for a wide receiver, virtually ignored. Except when someone's passing out the blame for the Redskins' league-worst passing game. No one ignores him then.

Yet, Muhammad, who says he likes to be left alone, hardly defends himself.

"I don't know what's wrong -- you tell me," he said this week.

That's his standard answer when a reporter comes calling.

His strongest answer? "We both know I can't run the whole team."

When a swift, gifted, 26-year-old wide receiver apparently falls from grace, then entirely from view, in eight weeks, it's natural to ask what's wrong.

Last season, after being traded from the Los Angeles Raiders Oct. 3, Muhammad became the Redskins' second-leading receiver with 42 catches for 729 yards. Now, halfway through this season, he has eight catches for 109 yards.

The Redskins' deep threat in 1984, Muhammad has been run right out of the offense in 1985.


He has run the wrong pass routes or not run them well, the coaches have said. He has dropped passes as all receivers do. There are those who question his desire to go over the middle. He and quarterback Joe Theismann, who is rated last in the NFC, have missed on some communication signals.

It's not his intensity; that's never been a problem with Muhammad. Coach Joe Gibbs likes his work habits and loves his talent.

What is it then?

"That's one of the mysteries for me," Gibbs said earlier this week. "(Without) the plays he made for us last year, it would have been pretty hard for us to win our division. He and I have talked about it. Sometimes, you don't know why."

The Redskins clearly are puzzled by what's happened to Muhammad, and so is his San Diego-based attorney, Steve Novak.

"It would be very easy for me to resolve in my mind if I knew there was something bothering him," Novak said. "They trade Charlie Brown (to Atlanta in August) and Calvin's the one. Then, all of a sudden, in three or four games, everything is undone."

Perhaps the answer lies in the Redskins' desire to start Muhammad. Until Brown's injuries forced him to become a starter last season, Muhammad had not been placed in that role in three professional seasons.

With the Raiders, he was, simply, a deep threat.

"He didn't play heavy-enough duty with us to be someone to build a lot around," said Raiders executive assistant Al LoCasale. "With him, we were looking to go deep. Then again, we're always looking to go deep."

When asked if perhaps the Redskins have tried to do too much with Muhammad, Novak said no. He said Muhammad would have an easier time starting, but is fine in a reserve role. "Calvin certainly has a place in a situational position (deep passing)," he said.

The Redskins rely on short, possession passes, not something Muhammad is known for, yet Gibbs does not feel that has hindered him.

"He has had every opportunity in the world to catch short passes, especially because guys stay off of him out of respect for his speed," Gibbs said. "We look at Calvin not just as a deep threat, but as a total package."

Muhammad, who is 6 feet and weighs 190 pounds, went on a weight program for the first time last offseason. He and Novak say the weights have helped, not hurt.

"The weights have made me stronger and faster, believe it or not," Muhammad said.

Novak wonders if Muhammad hasn't been singled out, perhaps unfairly, this season.

"Is Calvin the only casualty on that offensive unit?" Novak asked. "I think it's a situation where Joe (Theismann) obviously is the leader of the unit. It's easy when they want to protect Joe. I understand that, and I'm certainly not second-guessing anyone.

"But remember, Calvin hasn't really played in the last four games. It's so easy to focus on another direction to evade the issue of the quarterback situation."

Gibbs recently said responsibility for the problems of the offense rests with two people: Theismann and Gibbs.

But, if the Redskins were, say, 6-2 instead of 4-4, would Muhammad be watching practice with his hands on his hips?

"I don't think Calvin has cost them any games," Novak said, "yet it looks like we're in a phase-out stage."

Novak would not comment on trade possibilities. The Redskins do not seem to be looking to get rid of Muhammad, at least right now.

"I know I can play," Muhammad said, "with the Redskins or someone else."

Although the coaches seem to understand Muhammad's quiet way, Novak understands others might not.

"What makes him tick? He's so cool, it looks like things aren't that important to him. But it is so important to him. He tells me all the time how much it means to him. He does have that burn, that drive. It's bothering him."

But Muhammad says he is neither bothered nor disappointed.

"This whole situation is going to make me a better person," he said. "I can still catch . . . When will I play? Who knows? But there's no doubt in my mind I can do this."