CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 12 -- An offensive line that averages 300 pounds per man would be something to behold on a football field. A Joe Jacoby on one end, a Wally Kleine on the other. In between, a Mark May, or two or three.

It would be so big and burly that it would look almost unnatural, a line of five men who weigh three-quarters of a ton. But it's coming to the National Football League, and it's coming to RFK Stadium. And it's coming soon.

"That's no joke," said Washington Redskins assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel. "That's going to happen one of these days."

When the Redskins plucked Jacoby, May and Russ Grimm out of college in 1981, they became leaders in the "bigger is better" offensive line trend. But when they lost to the New York Giants three times last season and could manage just 145 yards rushing in those three games, they became concerned. Had this trend passed them by? Was it time to catch up?

The Redskins' answers were simple: yes and yes. Because of their obsession with catching up to the Giants, because the 3-4 defense is doing a number on centers, because their running game was off last season, the Redskins have joined the search for increased bulk.

"It's become a bigger guy's game," Coach Joe Gibbs said this morning at the Redskins' Dickinson College training camp. "Guys are just getting bigger. Almost everybody has a big offensive line now. Athletes are getting bigger, they're stronger, faster too. It's just a natural progression. I think we have six of our offensive linemen around 300. That used to be unbelievable. Today it's fairly commonplace."

It is not a coincidence that Jeff Bostic, the lightest starter on the Washington offensive line last season, was demoted to second team last week. In his place, the Redskins put all-pro Grimm, who weighs 275 pounds, about 15 more than Bostic. In Grimm's place went Raleigh McKenzie, who weighs 270. In other words, a net gain of 10 pounds for the offensive line.

But that's not all. May, the team's starting right tackle, began working at right guard today, with rookie Ed Simmons playing right tackle. Simmons is 275 pounds. R.C. Thielemann, the usual right guard, is 262.

And, for the first time since 1981, the Redskins selected an offensive lineman in the first two rounds of this year's NFL draft. And not just any lineman: Kleine, who weighs 308 pounds, but might end up on injured reserve this season. Three selections later, they added Simmons.

It's enough to make a 262-pound guard feel downright small, said Thielemann.

"I'm {38} pounds off the pace," Thielemann said. "I think all I can do is what I do best, which is technique, and a power game, too . . . If Coach Bugel wants 300-pound linemen, he'll find them. Some coaches don't want 300-pound linemen. Ours does."

Bugel calls Thielemann and Bostic "exceptions" who still will succeed in the trenches. But for how long?

"The 250-, 260-pounder has to be an exceptional guy," Bugel said. "Bostic and Thielemann are really good for our system. They're good leverage ballplayers. These two guys don't make mistakes. But I've seen a lot of guys in the league at 250, 260 get thrown around . . . If you've got a size differential, you better be a good technician, because if not, you're going to get delivered to the quarterback, air mail, special delivery."

Naturally, the smaller linemen have not embraced this emphasis on size. And one has to wonder what it means to a marginal player whose options might be either bulking up -- and remember, the NFL bans steroids -- or the unemployment line.

"I don't think everybody has to be 300 pounds to play offensive line," Bostic said. "I've played for seven years. I've played against the Reggie Whites {Philadelphia's 285-pounder}, the Leonard Marshalls {of the New York Giants, also 285}. If you've got good technique and good footwork, what is an extra 20 to 30 pounds going to do?"

One of the problems for the lighter linemen, especially centers, is the evolution of the 3-4 defense and the Chicago Bears' style of a pressing, aggressive defense. In both, the center is nose-up with a defensive lineman, which is not the case in the 4-3. In the 3-4, guards can help a center, but in the Bears-style defense, no offensive lineman is left uncovered.

"What they're doing right now with that Chicago Bear defense is Bostic's starting to face the bigger guy," Bugel said. "There are a lot of one-on-ones, with no help."

Gibbs said a smaller lineman "has got to have great leverage. What if you've got to stop a Dave Butz on a pass rush and you weigh 250 pounds? The worst thing for an offensive lineman on pass protection is to overextend. In order to stop a big charge by a defensive lineman, if you don't weigh a lot, you overextend. And then if you lock your legs {and lean over}, you're in the worst position you can be."

In a word, the problem is "matchups." The Redskins didn't like the way they matched up against the Giants, and took to their weight room with abandon this offseason, trying to tilt the scales in their favor.

But it's not just the Giants. The Dallas Cowboys didn't use to have an offensive lineman over 255, Bugel said. "Now, if you're 255, you don't play there. They're bigger. They've definitely swung the pendulum."

And the San Francisco 49ers, not known for their tremendous size, selected two 280-pound offensive linemen in their first three picks in the draft this spring.

"It's a big game right now," Bugel said. "I don't know what they're feeding the kids in college."

The question is inevitable. How is a 240-pound lineman supposed to keep up? Steroids are not allowed in the NFL, but are they being used anyway?

"If I wanted to weigh 285, I could go blow up on these steroids, but that's not me," Bostic said. "But I'm sure guys are doing it to try to prolong their careers or to get into the league."

"It's either {steroids} or a bulk Olympic-type program, but you have to drink gallons of milk a day and you have to be on a heck of a routine to get that," said Bugel.

"It's a real problem," said Thielemann. "I believe doctors will tell you that even though steroids have a detrimental effect, they do work as far as enhancing strength and building size."

The NFL is testing for steroid use this season, but Thielemann, for one, wonders if penalties will be strict or if players will simply undergo "counseling."

It all boils down to the issue of whether bigger really is better. This summer at least, apparently it is.

"In my opinion, if you've got two people with comparable abilities and skills and one guy weighs 280 and one guy weighs 240, you've got to believe if they're both conditioned the same, the bigger man will have the advantage," said Redskins strength coach Dan Riley. "All things being equal, the bigger man will win."