CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 16 -- Four weeks shy of the season opener, the Washington Redskins learned today that they have lost veteran middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz for about four weeks, according to trainer Bubba Tyer.

Olkewicz injured his right knee during a goal-line play in the Redskins' 23-17 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday night in RFK Stadium. During arthroscopic surgery performed today in Northern Virginia, doctors discovered a tear in the medial meniscus cartilage in Olkewicz's knee and then removed the cartilage, Tyer reported. No ligament damage was found. Olkewicz, 30, was resting comfortably tonight and was scheduled to be released from Arlington Hospital Monday.

Richie Petitbon, the assistant head coach/defense, said, "It's not the best thing they could have found, but it's not the worst, either."

Coach Joe Gibbs stressed the durability and toughness of Olkewicz, the former Maryland athlete who is entering his ninth professional season, and added, "We would never rush it, but Olky's a fast healer. I wouldn't count him out for the opener."

That comes Sept. 13, when the Philadelphia Eagles visit RFK.

The recuperative time frame for Olkewicz now seems almost in sync with that of all-pro defensive end Dexter Manley, who suffered a partially torn knee ligament in a scrimmage nine days ago.

"Dexter is getting better every day," Gibbs said. "Between him and Olky, we have two guys who want to play and are mentally tough."

If the regular season opened today, this is how the Redskins would react to Olkewicz's absence: they would move right side linebacker Rich Milot to the middle and move Monte Coleman, who spells Mel Kaufman on passing downs at left linebacker, to the starting spot at right linebacker. Milot is familiar with the middle, having played the position on many second-down situations in the past.

"Right now," Petitbon said of the linebacker situation, "depth is a problem. It's not a healthy situation. We'll just have to work around it."

One repercussion of Olkewicz's injury is that it gives an opportunity to shine to such young middle linebackers such as Kurt Gouveia, Steve Nave and Shawn Burks.

Also, with the potential flip-flop of the starting linebackers, Olkewicz's absence might allow reserve outside linebackers Ravin Caldwell and Anthony Copeland a chance to strut their stuff.

"Neal's held that job for eight years. He was my idol before I got here," said Burks, the only current reserve middle linebacker who reached the Redskins' active roster last season.

"For me, it's is a great opportunity just to be in the running."

Nave, a free-agent rookie from Kansas, said, "When I came here, people kept saying that the Redskins always bring in people to push Neal, but that he always survives. This is a bad way for it to happen, but I guess this will push me up."

Gouveia is the most highly regarded of the reserve middle linebacking bunch, but he suffered two broken bones in his right hand Friday and is out for about two weeks, Tyer said. Gouveia's hand has been placed in a cast and he plans to take part in noncontact aspects of practice.

Meanwhile, Copeland sprained his knee nine days ago and hasn't played since. His status, according to Tyer, is "week-to-week."

Petitbon seemed a mite perturbed when he said of Copeland, a second-year player, "It's hard to figure out. We can't get him on the field {because of his injuries last year and this}. We certainly would like to see something from him before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor again."

Petitbon added, "The only good thing about all of this, is that we don't play {a regular season game} for a month. A lot can happen in a month.

"But when you get hit in an area where you were already thin to start with -- lose a starter and a potential backup -- that makes it tough."

Meanwhile, linebacker Caldwell remained in the spotlight for making what appears to have been the most memorable play of Friday night's game. On the opening kickoff, he had his helmet knocked from his head, but he continued forward to make a fumble-inducing tackle on the return.

He suffered a mild concussion on the play and required three stitches immediately after the game. He required a good sense of humor today when teammates began calling him "Stonehead."

"Now when I see someone on the street and they hear I'm a Redskin they don't say anything. But if I say 'I'm Ravin Caldwell,' they say, 'Oh, you're the guy who got knocked out on the first play,' " Caldwell said, grinning.

Kaufman gave the verbal needle to Caldwell, saying, "That play may add three years to his career, but take two years off his life."

Even Gibbs noted that Caldwell's play prompted a phone call from Gibbs' son, J.D.

Said Gibbs, "J.D. called from William and Mary and said all the guys thought the play was unbelievable."

The underlying truth of this is that an ability to excel on special teams will have a great impact on which linebackers will make the final 45-man roster.

"We want to get back to having six or seven guys on special teams like we had back in '82 with the Otis Wonsleys, the Pete Cronans and the Greg Williamses," Gibbs said. "We haven't had that for a couple years and I think it's something we have to get back.

"We're looking for a special group."

Rookie offensive tackle Wally Kleine, who was selected in the second round of this year's draft from Notre Dame, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Saturday, Tyer said. The cartilage was trimmed and loose particles were cleared out from the right knee, Tyer said.

Kleine incurred his injury during the first week of the Redskins' rookie practice and has been unable to practice recently. It is likely he will be placed on the injured reserve list.