Steve Bartkowski -- feeling a bit like a rookie despite his 33 years, 11 spent quarterbacking the Atlanta Falcons -- joined the Washington Redskins as expected and went through his first practice yesterday at Redskin Park.

The Redskins signed Bartkowski, who was released by Atlanta, in case Jay Schroeder could not play because of a fractured rib. Coach Joe Gibbs said that Babe Laufenberg would be the first quarterback off the bench if Schroeder couldn't go, though Schroeder took most of the snaps yesterday and said he felt good.

Sunday's game at RFK Stadium against Cincinnati will be Bartkowski's first as a Redskin and there has been speculation that it will be the final Redskins home game for running back John Riggins. However, when asked if talk of his retirement was premature, Riggins said, "That's all it is: talk."

Bartkowski's contract runs only through the end of this season, at which time he would become a free agent.

"I've got a no-cut, two-week contract," Bartkowski joked before practice. He had just arrived from his home near Atlanta and his suitcase sat in his locker behind him as he thumbed through the playbook he just received. "I've been looking at a lot of books in the last few weeks, but not at a playbook."

It was a different feeling for the two-time Pro Bowl player who led the Falcons to their only two playoff appearances. "I'm kind of feeling my way around," he said. "It's strange not to be familiar with the surroundings. I feel like a rookie, not knowing where to hang my hat."

Bartkowski, who was the third-ranked quarterback in the NFC last year, started the first five games for Atlanta this season before injuring his right knee. He was placed on the injured reserve list before the eighth game, although he maintained then that he could play. He was released in November.

Bartkowski has had three arthroscopic and two major operations on his right knee.

"It feels good. I don't remember it feeling as good as it does now," Bartkowski said. "About three weeks ago it felt fine and I could've played three or four weeks prior to that. But I'm just thankful that I have this opportunity. I had a great desire to play, but with only four weeks left, teams were under sort of a deadline. I had written this year off. I was just going to try to maintain the strength in my knee, and throw the ball, and give it a good shot somewhere. This is a bonus for me."

Gibbs -- fearful that the team's playoff hopes could be dashed by not having a third quarterback in an emergency -- said Bartkowski's experience with a very similar offense led him to make the decision.

The Falcons are coached by Dan Henning, who was with the Redskins in 1981 and 1982 and has installed a similar one-back offense.

"There are very similar traits in both offenses," said Bartkowski, who left the Falcons under less than cordial circumstances. "The similarity had to weigh heavily in their decision, because it wouldn't take me as long to figure out what they're doing as long as it might take someone not used to this offense. But they do have some real wrinkles in it that we didn't have."

Gibbs said, "We looked around at who was available in case Jay was down. He gives us added depth behind Jay and Babe. I feel real good about Jay; he looked all right today. Steve's a classy guy and could help us from a stability standpoint. Babe's the No. 2 and he knows that. I talked to all of them about it."

Bartkowski passed a physical given by Redskins physician Charles Jackson, then signed the contract and went out to practice. He spent most of the session going over the offense with quarterback coach Jerry Rhome.

Gibbs said he had no plans for Bartkowski past this season and "I don't think it could change."

Laufenberg, who got most of the work Wednesday after Schroeder, by design, took just 15 plays, and said Gibbs explained Bartkowski's signing to him.

"He told me he was happy with what I'm doing," Laufenberg said, "and that it's just an insurance."

Said Schroeder, "I don't think I was surprised. It's insurance."

The odd man out in the deal was linebacker Chris Keating, who had been with the team for 10 games. Keating already was on the field snapping for punts when he was told he would be waived.

"I hate to leave this team, but that's how it goes," said Keating, who, after a break for the holidays, will return to a job as a stockbroker in Boston. "But things can change rather quickly, as I've found out in the past." Keating had been waived and then re-signed within one day earlier in the year.