The Redskins' Neal Olkewicz hasn't missed a game in six years. Last night, however, the redoubtable middle linebacker suffered what doctors termed a pinched cartilage in his right knee, during a first-quarter goal line play in the Redskins' 23-17 preseason victory over the Steelers.

Redskins doctors will X-ray the injury today. Perhaps it is due to the fact that Olkewicz has played in a team-high 73 consecutive games that the team physician, Charles Jackson, said last night: "Olky is such a tough guy, if anyone can come back fast, it's him."

But the steely-eyed truth was in Olkewicz's face last night. "Yeah," he said, "I'm worried."

"If it's cartilage, that's not too long {for recovery}," Olkewicz, 30, the team's leading tackler last season, added. "But if it's ligaments, you don't know. I've had injuries before, but I guess it's harder to bounce back when you are older."

The Redskins' linebacker corps, which has been under intense scrutiny this summer, took a beating last night. Reserve Kurt Gouveia fractured his right hand during the second half. The second-year player was fitted for a cast after the game and said: "It's not like me to have injuries. I'm struggling . . . But I can play. I'll put a pad on it and play."

Coach Joe Gibbs all but nixed that idea, noting the difficulty for a linebacker to tackle with a broken hand. "It will be tough for him to latch on to a guy," Gibbs said.

It had been bad enough that linebacker Anthony Copeland had sprained his left knee scrimmaging against the New York Jets last week and hasn't played since. But matters became worse when linebacker Ravin Caldwell suffered a mild concussion on the opening kickoff last night and didn't get back into the game.

Don't forget, Caldwell, Gouveia and Copeland are the very players that General Manager Bobby Beathard has been hailing as his linebackers of the future. When the Redskins failed to draft a linebacker this year, Beathard pointed to these three (all of whom were on injured reserve last season) as the way to "get more physical" in matchups with the Giants.

Caldwell was hurt last night when he ran 10 yards across the field -- after his helmet had fallen off -- and made a fumble-causing tackle. The play was gutsy, if foolhardy. The injury is not serious and, Gibbs allowed, "{Caldwell} might have what it takes to cover kicks."

Now, when you add the injury to defensive end Dexter Manley, whose status for the Sept. 13 season opener is in doubt because of a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, you'll realize the Redskins defense has started to accumulate a fretful number of injuries.

"We"ve had the highest number of injuries to starters since I got here in '81," said defensive tackle Darryl Grant. "Everybody will just have to work a little harder. {Olkewicz} is the center of our defense. He's a very important cog. The guys who play with him appreciate him."

Linebacker Rich Milot, who said he remains confident Olkewicz will return soon, admitted: "I can remember Neal missing a practice, but not a game."

Looking for a silver lining in Olkewicz's injurious night, Milot added: "He's not the type of guy who plays with blazing speed. He's a tough, physical guy."

Jackson, the team physician, said of Olkewicz's injury: "The knee feels stable. It's exceedingly tender. I think he's pinched the surface of the joint." He said last night it was too early to tell how long Olkewicz might be sidelined.

Meanwhile, reserve quarterback Doug Williams played the entire second half -- "the longest I've played since 1985 when I was in the USFL" -- and seemed pleased with the effort.

He completed eight of 16 passes for 102 yards, including a precise 14-yard scoring pass to wideout Ricky Sanders, who ran a fade pattern.

"Didn't look like it's been two years {since he played a full half}, did it?" Williams asked. "It felt good to feel like I was in control out there."

Willliams, 32, has thrown nearly 3,000 passes in his professional career and he has made it clear that he would like to play for a team that requires his services, although always making the statement with the caveat: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm a Redskin now."

He seemed interested to discover that scouts from 12 NFL teams attended last night's game, not to mention two more from Canadian Football League teams.

"I ain't going to the CFL," Williams said. "I'd call it quits first."

As for playing for another NFL team, he said, "I don't feel any pressure either way."