Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said yesterday he is "delighted" that Coach Joe Gibbs indicated he will be able to compete for the starting quarterback position, but said he doesn't know yet if he will be ready to play this season.

Theismann, who broke his right leg last November, said in a telephone interview that he "has completed 80 percent of the rehabilitation process."

But he said he still is experiencing "quite a bit of numbness where the ankle and shinbone meet," and also has had some stiffness in his leg. "It's taking a while to heal," Theismann said. "Now, when I get out of bed, I can take two or three steps and the ankle feels looser . . . But I have not been able to run and I have not been able to throw, two major things in my job."

For several months, Theismann and the Redskins have explored trade possibilities, with no apparent success. However, Theismann said it is "not correct" to say he has found no interest from other teams.

He declined to say which teams he had contacted, or how strong the interest is.

"My conversations have been very pleasant," he said. "I haven't even entertained thoughts of going anywhere else. This is not the appropriate time."

Gibbs said last week that he expects Theismann, if he is healthy, to compete with Jay Schroeder for the starting job. That statement contrasted sharply with strong signals from the Redskins that they are grooming Schroeder to be the starter.

Theismann said he understands those signals.

"What happens if the crazy, 37-year-old quarterback comes back and wins the job?" Theismann asked. "That really scares some of them. 'What do we do then?' That seems to be their biggest worry."

Feelings about Theismann and his future may be changing at Redskin Park, he said.

After the season, he said he and Gibbs discussed his future and whether he could tolerate being the backup quarterback. It was then that Theismann began to call other teams.

"I would have been stupid not to realize what was going on," he said.

Last month, Theismann said he didn't think the odds were good that he would return to the Redskins, "based on the vibrations I was getting."

But now, he said, "it seems to be a little different . . . I'm delighted Joe [Gibbs] has said those things. This is a posture I'd have hoped the Redskins would have taken all along."

Then again, he said the perceived change could simply be a matter of the team waiting for him to get healthy before again trying to make a trade.

"Having heard what Joe [Gibbs] has said, it's taken a lot of pressure off the team with the draft coming up next week," Theismann said. "Now they don't have to try to shop me around to get a draft choice for this draft.

"Let's face it. The horse was not ready to be shown yet. They really weren't sure what condition the commodity they're trying to sell was in."

Theismann said he was pleased to hear that Gibbs was most concerned about his rehabilitation.

"I agree with him," he said. "Their biggest concern is if I can play and when. These are questions we really have no answers to."

Theismann said he has been working out at various places during several trips out of town, and has been playing some racquetball and tennis.

"But my game's not where it was," he said. "I can move, but I can't run."

He has found that getting well takes a long time, longer than he originally thought.

"If you had asked me in January whether I'd be able to play this summer, I would have said, 'Absolutely. Positively.' Now, I don't know.

"It's one thing to be able to walk. It's another thing to go out on a football field and play. They are two separate things. If I were a golfer, or if I were running my restaurants and doing nothing else, I'd be able to go back to it now. With football, it takes longer."

Theismann, who will turn 37 in September, said he is not considering retiring.

"I have a two-year contract," he said. "My goal is to play those two years. That's where retirement is for me."

However, he acknowledged the possibility of spending a year on injured reserve, or even never playing again.

On being placed on injured reserve: "That's something I think the club and I will have to sit down and talk about if that time comes. That's an economic commitment on the club's part and a rehabilitation commitment on my part. I'm certainly ready to make the rehabilitation commitment."

On his future: "Ultimately, there will come a day and a time when I will ask, 'Will I be able to play? Am I healing well? Is there permanent damage? Will I not be able to play?' Right now, the suspense is killing me.

"Fortunately, there are three months to go until the Redskins go to training camp. I'm going to need every day."

Theismann said his right leg will be a quarter-inch shorter than his left leg, but said the difference will be corrected by wearing a "lift" inside his shoe.

"I've been wearing lifts in my shoes for years to correct a bit of a back problem, so this will be no different," he said.

Theismann also praised Schroeder, his replacement who led the 10-6 Redskins to a 5-1 finish.

"Jay has a big future with the team," he said. "It's almost hard to believe he's played in eight or nine football games, including college. He is a real talented young man. We have a very good relationship."

Gibbs said last week that Theismann's ability to handle a backup role would be his "biggest concern" in a training camp quarterback battle.

"Hey, I wouldn't want anyone working for me who wanted to be No. 2 at anything," Theismann said. "If you're willing to accept second-best, then I'm sorry. That's not for me. But if you go out and compete, and if somebody else fares better than you, then you resign yourself to working harder and to continue competing for the job.

"I'm willing to go out and compete and let the chips fall where they may."