CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 24 -- Mark Rypien is on the edge and he knows it.

Among the items currently being negotiated by the National Football League's players and owners is whether to expand the rosters from 45 players to 49. If they are kept at 45, it becomes very difficult to keep a third quarterback and Rypien could be out of his job with the Washington Redskins. With 49, Rypien is in like Flynn.

"I'm sort of left in the blue," Rypien said after today's practice at Dickinson College.

"I don't know about the collective bargaining agreement, and I don't know what the coaches are thinking. I guess that's why the game is so much fun, because you're all fighting to win a spot on the team. But it can be scary, because you don't know if you're going to be here."

Coach Joe Gibbs said over the weekend that he would like to keep three quarterbacks even if the rosters aren't expanded. But Gibbs has made similar training camp statements in the past, only to be forced to cut a quarterback later.

Rypien, who attended Washington State, was the Redskins' sixth-round draft pick in 1986. During training camp last year, he was kept ahead of fans' favorite Babe Laufenberg, who was cut during camp. In their final roster decision, the Redskins elected to go with two quarterbacks and put Rypien on the injured reserve list, citing a sore knee.

The knee healed fairly quickly and Rypien spent the season learning the offense while working out with the team. Rypien is still behind starter Jay Schroeder and backup Doug Williams, but he thinks he has improved greatly.

"Undoubtedly, the mental aspect of my game is better," said Rypien. "Last year I think I was making the correct decision, but I wasn't making it quick enough."

Williams, 32, has asked the team to try to trade him to a contending team so he can have a chance to start as he did with Tampa Bay. Giving Williams that opportunity obviously would help Rypien.

"If they do make a trade, they want to get a good deal," Rypien said. "And they're thinking, 'Is the guy {Rypien} capable of filling Doug's shoes and being a consistent backup?'

"If Doug gets the chance to play somewhere else -- and he deserves it because he's a heck of a football player -- I'm not against it at all. He's proven he can play and if you look around the league, you can see some teams need quarterbacks. Doug has only two or three more good years -- he knows that -- and his chances of backing up are good, but he wants to go out playing and he deserves that chance. I'm looking at it for him, but I also look out for what's best for myself, and if he would go, it would be the best for both of us."

Rypien didn't play in the first preseason game against Pittsburgh, but he entered Saturday's game against Green Bay in the third quarter. He opened with a 52-yard completion to Ricky Sanders and then a one-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Branch. The rest of the way, he was two for five for seven yards.

"He played very well," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome. "That was his first shot out of the box, and he seemed confident and aware of what was going on."

The Redskins have two preseason games left and Gibbs said he will use Schroeder more in the final two games to get him ready for the season. That may translate into less time for Rypien.

"That's up to Coach Gibbs," Rhome said. "I know Coach Gibbs has a lot of confidence in Mark. I don't feel like we would be afraid to put him in a game and have confidence that he would play well.

"I know he's had an excellent training camp. He seems quicker. He's lost a little weight and he seems quicker-footed. He's definitely progressing mentally. He was pretty far {along} last year, but he's even more improved this year."

Even more so than others struggling to make the team, as a quarterback Rypien has less control of his fate. But all he can do is keep working.

"I'd be cheating myself and cheating the team if I did anything else," he said. "I've got to push Doug and push Jay. It makes us all better. That's why every rep {repetition} I take in practice I have to try to think of as my last."

Getting cut is certainly one of the possibilities for Rypien.

"I think it's crossed everybody's mind," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. I could be back home in Spokane or Fairfax any day. You never know if you will, which is why you've got to work hard."

If politeness had anything to do with being a successful quarterback, Rypien would go straight to NFL enshrinement in Canton. He attributes it to proper upbringing and a desire to make good first impressions, but it doesn't go with him on the field.

"From the very beginning, he was not bashful," Rhome said. "He stepped in and, even if he made mistakes, he seemed like he was doing the right things anyway. He's a very strong-minded, aggressive type of guy in everything he does.

"He is a very nice person, but as a competitor, he's very strong. I've played pool with him and I've played golf with him. I know for a fact that the guy is a competitor. You've got to have confidence. If you don't think you're any good, you aren't going to be any good."