CARLISLE, PA., JULY 31 -- For several summers now, the word from Dickinson College has been that one or perhaps a couple of the Washington Redskins' veteran linebackers was going to lose his job.

If it wasn't Neal Olkewicz, it was Rich Milot.

"It's the same story every year," Olkewicz said. "They bring in new young guys to take our jobs away." And so it is this summer. Only this time, the challenge seems to be the most serious of all.

Not particularly pleased with the play of their linebackers last season, the Redskins have pinned their linebacking hopes for the future on three players who spent the 1986 season on injured reserve, the professional equivalent of college redshirting. They are Ravin Caldwell, Kurt Gouveia and Anthony Copeland, left to right on your scorecard.

If the first game of the season were today and not Sept. 13, it's unlikely any of them would be starting. But it is likely two would be on the team.

"I would like to think that at least two out of the three will make our football team," said defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello, who coaches the linebackers.

This doesn't necessarily mean any of the five veterans -- Olkewicz, Milot, Mel Kaufman, Monte Coleman and Shawn Burks -- would be cut, because Peccatiello would like to keep seven players. If he gets to keep only six, then someone would have to go. But the point is, because of advancing age and injury, changes likely will occur in the Washington linebacking corps, and these three new players will have the chance to make the greatest impact.

There is an air of anticipation at this training camp. Caldwell, Gouveia and Copeland have been practicing all week with the other young players, but, to a man, say they are quite eager to begin competing with the veterans at the team's first full practice Monday.

"Everybody starts fighting it out as soon as the veterans come in," said Gouveia, the Redskins' eighth-round pick in the 1986 draft. "I don't really have the sense they want to replace somebody, but they realize the years the vets have in the league, so there might be a change that way. They're trying to get ready, to make sure that they have somebody to take their place."

Caldwell, a fifth-round draft choice in '86, fractured his right kneecap in his senior season at Arkansas and didn't practice with the Redskins until late last season.

Gouveia, from Brigham Young, tore a ligament in his left knee in preseason and also didn't practice until the end of the season. Copeland, a free agent from Louisville, pulled his right quadriceps muscle in preseason, but was able to practice much of the season. He became known for the ferocious way he imitated the opponents' top linebacker on the scout team in practice, particularly Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants.

Copeland, 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, has great "measurables," the Redskins say, but he also has seen his share of controversy. At the team's May minicamp, he drew Peccatiello's ire when he began talking about his all-pro goals.

"I think his first goal should be making this football team," Peccatiello said this week. "I don't think a guy who has just played in college and has never played at this level should be talking about making all-pro."

Copeland also hasn't played football since 1984 after a disagreement with incoming Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger. He wanted Copeland to beef up and move to nose guard; Copeland didn't want to and quit the team.

"I just felt it was a lot to ask of a guy in his senior year," Copeland said. "I realize I have a lot to prove now."

Like Copeland, Caldwell, who is 6-3 and 229 pounds, has the size the Redskins like at linebacker.

"My height and my size have a lot to do with it," Caldwell said. "When you rush, you've got to go against a lineman or tight end, and you can pretty well handle them if you're pretty big."

"Ravin and Anthony give us size, which you'd like to say could result in more strength in the point of attack and be a better run-defense situation," said Peccatiello. "If they become role-players as opposed to starters, you could envision somebody with Ravin's size being a short-yardage player and helping us there."

Gouveia shares more with Olkewicz than a position. He is shorter (6-1) and smaller (227 pounds) than most linebackers, and spends much of his time overachieving.

He is not expected to replace Olkewicz, but he is expected to give him the fight of his life. At least for this summer.