There is no such thing as the offseason anymore for NFL players. That's primarily because NFL teams operate under the assumption that Adonis was not built in a day.

The coldhearted facts indicate that NFL players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before and that their career spans are getting shorter than ever before (averaging less than four years).

Around NFL coaching ranks, Charles Darwin's train of thought is held most dear and precious: it's a game of survival of the fittest. So it's muscle or be muscled, fellas.

Consequently, on any day of the year in the NFL (the Never-ending Football League) you'll find players working out at their team's practice facility under the supervision of strength and conditioning coaches. These players work out under the fine line of voluntary/mandatory. Some teams pay their players for working out three to four times a week (up to $400 per week), but others, such as the Washington Redskins, figure their players' own conscience is inducement enough.

Workout philosophies vary greatly around the league. But this much is certain: you'll find players exercising, Nautilusizing and maybe even aerobicizing in their team's weight rooms. Of course, you'll also find a few salty veterans -- the grizzled ones who remember the hammock-swaying good old days of spring -- who will be complainicizing, too.

"It's a very, very competitive game now," Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "I don't know how players can expect to work their way into shape during training camp. Training camp is a time to maintain the condition you already have. If a player comes to training camp in less than great condition, he is kidding himself."

Imagine this: it used to be that February through June was saved for a players' physical resuscitation from the previous season. But now, as Giants fourth-year guard Chris Godfrey sees it, "{The offseason} is a get-in-shape period that leads into our get-in-shape period."

New England Patriots guard Ron Wooton put it this way: "{Coach} Raymond Berry wants us to be in the best shape of the year on the first day of training camp."

If the 1960s was a time for wind sprints and pull-ups in the NFL, and if the 70's was a time for lifting free weights, then the '80's has become a time for treadmills and Nautilus and high-tech monitoring systems. Bobby Mitchell, the Redskins' assistant general manager and Hall of Fame halfback of the Browns and Redskins (1958-69), was asked yesterday to describe his offseason program during his playing days.

"Truthfully, I can't remember doing anything," Mitchell said. "We just did some running, push-ups and calisthenics in training camp. I know that Jim Brown never lifted a weight in his life. And {former all-pro defensive end} Ernie Stautner had so much natural strength that he didn't have to lift a weight, but he could lift a building, anyway.

"The only weight work I ever did was in my last year {1969} when {Coach Vince} Lombardi set up some isometric gadget with ropes, and we were all saying, 'What is this?' And Lombardi was screaming, 'Get to work, Mitchell!"

This age of training-around-the-calendar has left the NFL Players Association with several concerns, according to Mark Murphy, the union's assistant executive director: first, it places too much wear and tear on players' bodies, without allowing for enough rest period; second, because coaches are pressuring players to take part in such programs, the players thereby are losing the opportunity to either work a second job or to further pursue their education during the offseason.

The NFLPA also believes that numerous teams have held informal seven-on-seven passing drills or similar drills during the offseason, even though such drills are forbidden under rules of the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players. (This rule does not apply to rookies, though, and teams often bring these players to their practice facility for as much as two months of instruction prior to summer training camp.)

Officials of several NFL teams were contacted for this story, and all categorically denied their team conducts seven-on-seven passing drills in offseason.

"The language is there {in the collective bargaining agreement}, but the enforcement of the rules is not there," said Murphy. "Teams get around the rules by saying workouts are voluntary. But if you talk to the players, the workouts are anything but voluntary. The abuses are worse on teams that just had losing seasons." A Fine Line

One NFL trainer, who requested anonymity, said, "It is difficult during the offseason to draw the line on whether you're abusing an athlete or helping him."

However, Redskins strength coach Dan Riley, said, "We have ways of monitoring if a guy is overtraining. We keep records and can tell if there are falloffs or if a guy is suffering fatigue."

Of course, NFL management counters the union arguments of player overwork by pointing out that players now average more than $200,000 a year and that, unlike the old days, they don't require a second job for financial reasons.

Giants General Manager George Young said, "Coaches sometimes get fanatical, especially when they lose. That's understandable because this is a business of one-upmanship . . . But I know that, with our team, coaches don't put any more pressure on players to do anything other than what's in their best interest. I think most good players work out all year around anyway."

Young also noted the Giants will alter weight-lifting schedules to allow players time for offseason jobs. The Giants also take part in a continuing education program with Fairleigh Dickinson University. Young said, "I sincerely wish more players were preparing for a second career. I'm all for that."

Beathard said that, over the past several years, cornerback Vernon Dean is the only Redskin who has sought help in offseason job placement. Beathard added, "You have these guys getting paid more than $100,000 for six months, and they don't want to go to work for $400 a week the rest of the time."

And so, the NFL continues to muscle up around the clock.Young and Hungry

Players coming out of college are bigger than ever, and this further presses veterans to the weight room. Some NFL players attribute this increased size of rookies to enhanced college weight programs. Others insist this growth is due to rampant steroid use in colleges. Veteran free-agent quarterback Ron Jaworski said recently, "Each year, I see these guys coming out of college with no necks and I wonder, 'Where are they getting their genes from?' "

No NFL team wants to be outmuscled. After their lackluster 8-8 finish last season, the Los Angeles Raiders have added a more regimented weight program, according to 11th-year cornerback Lester Hayes. "After going 8-8 and losing to the Colts, it's embarrassing. You can see teams manhandling you on the films. So you know you have to pump iron.

"It's not said that it's mandatory for us to show up at {offseason workouts}. It's just said that {attendance} is for the team's benefit. That's the way Coach {Al} Davis {Raiders managing general partner} says it, and what Coach Davis says around here is law."

And what if a Raider failed to make a scheduled workout? Said Hayes, "He'd probably become a member of the Mount Rainier Sasquatches. That's a semipro team outside of Seattle."

Coach Don Shula's Miami Dolphins finished an un-Shula-like 8-8 last season and, by mid-February, they were back in Miami lifting weights as part of a 10-week offseason program. It's not a new program, but it is being held a little sooner than in the past.

"The idea is not to wear them down. We just feel that in order for the players to have longevity, they need to spend time in the offseason working out," said assistant coach David Shula."It's not mandatory attendance, but at the end of the year we do ask each player what his plans are . . . If you don't keep pace, you won't be in the league. You know that other guys are working hard and you can't fall behind."The Football Giants

The New York Giants won the Super Bowl in January due, in large part, to their unparalleled corps of mammoth, mobile linebackers. Now every team is looking to produce carbon copies. "We have to be more physical to play with the Giants," Washington's Beathard has said again and again. Physical, always physical.

Strength coach Johnny Parker was given much credit for the Giants' success last year. After the Super Bowl, Parker said Giants players were instructed to rest for three weeks, then to spend one month in relatively passive activity (bicycling, jogging, etc.), before returning to the weight room.

"The players are intelligent enough to know that {offseason training} helps them. Coach {Bill} Parcells feels it does two things: helps performance and keeps injuries down," Parker said. "In the three years we've had this program, we've led the league in players starting all 16 games. Also, only two players who took part in at least 85 percent of the workouts have missed games the following season.

"This is the one thing you do to prevent the Jim Ottos. {Otto, a former Raiders center, suffered a severe physical breakdown after retiring}. What I want to see is these players to dance the first dance with their daughter years down the road rather than to have a brief physical fling with health."

Teams now urge players to live in the area after the season ends to better facilitate offseason weight programs. Only four Redskins live outside of the Washington area after the season, according to Riley.

Tight end Don Warren enters his ninth season and, after a workout yesterday said, "I'm totally convinced that working with weights has kept me in the game this long. When people ask me what I do in the offseason, I say, 'I lift weights.' When you're making a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year, this is the time I have to perform. Everybody is stronger now than they used to be, so you have to do it."

Redskins coaches have long pestered all-pro guard Russ Grimm to work more seriously with weights in the offseason. Only this year is Grimm listening, and he said he listened now only because a series of injuries caused him to miss the equivalent of five games last season.

"The coaches have preached to me to lift weights for three or four years," Grimm said. "I was under the impression that I had the ability to get by only talent alone. This year, I realized I needed to do more."