For excitement on a rainy day at Redskin Park, you can sit in the locker room and watch Neal Olkewicz's bruise travel down his right arm.

It sounds like a horror show: "The Bruise That Took Over the Middle Linebacker's Arm."

It moves. It grows. It hurts.

"It's a nasty-looking thing," said Mel Kaufman, the left linebacker. "I guess it's draining down through his arm. It's nasty."

Olkewicz, the Washington Redskins' middle linebacker, has a bruise running from his chest to his elbow, and, if all goes as planned, it eventually should trickle into his hand. The blood came from the right pectoral muscle, which Olkewicz tore last Sunday in the 13-7 loss to Dallas.

"It's starting to look like a disease," said Olkewicz, who practiced in contact drills yesterday for the first time this week.

The Redskins (5-5) hope it's not catching. Heading into Monday night's game with the New York Giants (7-3), one thing they don't need is any more sick players.

Defensive end Dexter Manley, who had been in bed with the flu for two days, returned to work yesterday. He looked different, though. He wore a surgical mask in the locker room before practice.

"Dr. Kildare!" yelled tackle Mark May.

"Call Marcus Welby!" shouted guard/center Jeff Bostic.

Manley's muffled reply: "I'm just being considerate of my teammates."

Although he said he felt weak from his illness, he participated in most of the defensive drills and said he would be fine by Monday. Then, instead of standing in the rain with everyone else as the offense practiced, he was allowed to go inside.

Strong safety Tony Peters (pulled groin) missed practice for the third consecutive day.

Running back John Riggins, who didn't practice Friday because of a stiff back, returned to work yesterday and appeared to be fine.

Sometimes, more hours of a coach's day are put into replacing bodies than making up plays. This has been the story of defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Larry Peccatiello's life most of this season.

Because of a hamstring tear (Monte Coleman's), a sore knee (Stuart Anderson's), a pinched nerve in the neck (Kaufman's), and, now, Olkewicz's torn pectoral muscle, the Redskins have had only two healthy linebackers all season, and one of them has been cut twice in the last four weeks.

That's Chris Keating, who said he wanted a change in his life when he held out earlier in the season in a contract dispute with the Buffalo Bills.

He got it.

When Coleman was injured in September, Keating was signed. He was released four weeks later, and just about the time he walked in the door back home in Boston, the phone rang.

It was the Redskins. Coleman had a cramp, and they wanted Keating back.

He lasted two more games, then was cut again when Coleman was activated off injured reserve. He watched last week's Dallas game from the stands as a fan.

But then Olkewicz was injured, and the Redskins got scared again.

Who you gonna call?

Chris Keating.

Rich Milot, the other healthy linebacker, will move from the right side to the middle if Olkewicz needs to be replaced. He makes that move often anyway on second-and-long situations.

"My adjustment is in running situations," he said. "I usually see passing when I go to the middle, although I still get the run now and then."

This is not to say that all changes come easily for the Redskins linebackers. Twice this season, injuries have played a big role in opponents' touchdowns.

The first came when Giants tight end Mark Bavaro caught a 29-yard touchdown pass over Keating two plays after Keating replaced Kaufman, who was having trouble with his neck. The Giants won, 17-3.

The second was last week, when Tony Dorsett beat Coleman on a 48-yard scoring pass. Coleman had reinjured his hamstring and wasn't running at 100 percent, he said.

He still isn't. Yesterday, Coleman guessed he was at about 75 percent of full strength, but said, regardless, he will have his usual duties Monday, including coverage on some pass routes.

"If it happens, it happens," Coleman said. "I've got to do my job."

Interestingly, Kaufman said the linebackers have been "fairly consistent" this season.

"We're having an average year so far, I'd say. We're not getting as many turnovers as we usually get, but we're doing okay."

Most of his peers say that Olkewicz is having perhaps his finest season. It's likely he will play against the Giants, even if he has to wear a leather harness to keep his arm from stretching back too far.

But all this changing just makes him dizzy. You will find Olkewicz one of two places: in the middle of the field or on the sidelines.

"I couldn't play on the outside if my life depended on it," he said.