Washington Redskins free safety Todd Bowles, in his second season from Temple, has taken veteran Curtis Jordan's job.

Bowles will start against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night, said assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon. If he does well, the job likely will be his for the regular season.

"We'll see how he does and go from there," Petitbon said yesterday at Redskin Park. "It's still preseason. We're still going to look at a lot of people."

If Bowles does as well as his coaches expect and officially wins the starting job for the regular season, three of the team's four starting defensive backs will be second-year players. (Strong safety Alvin Walton and cornerback Tim Morrison are the others. Cornerback Darrell Green is in his fifth season.)

"I'm ready to play," Bowles said after practice, where he played with the first-team defense for the first time yesterday.

"I know I need a good game against the Rams, because Curtis still is pretty good . . . It will be good to get my feet wet for the opening game."

Jordan, 33, the team's starting free safety since 1984, declined comment.

Petitbon also said veteran cornerback Vernon Dean probably will see playing time Saturday at both free and strong safety. Dean played free safety in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay.

Bowles, a free agent who immediately impressed coaches in training camp last season, started two games last year as a makeshift linebacker in nickel coverage. The Redskins won both games, against San Francisco and Dallas.

Bowles is a quiet, intelligent player known as a quick study. He will call the defensive signals for the Redskins, just as Jordan did.

"I'm pretty good with the signals," Bowles said. "I learned them all last year. I don't have any problems. I talk on the field. I know my job. Off the field, I'll answer a question if I'm asked. If I'm not asked, I won't."

During the preseason, Coach Joe Gibbs and Petitbon both have said the free safety spot was closely contested. Bowles came into the Redskins' preseason game at Tampa Bay to replace Jordan in the second quarter, much earlier than the other reserves.

Bowles (6 feet 2, 203 pounds) said he spoke with Green yesterday about the lack of experience in the secondary. "We're young, but being that we've all been playing together, that's a big advantage," Bowles said. "Someone's got to take over the leadership and help us jell by opening day. That's my job."

A year ago, Bowles was trying to win a roster spot. Now, he is a starter. "It's kind of happened quick," he said. "They haven't given me much of a chance to think about what I've done. One day, I'll get a chance to sit back and think about it."

Redskins player representative Neal Olkewicz has called a union meeting for this afternoon to take a vote on the NFLPA's strike date. The Redskins will not take a strike vote at the meeting, Olkewicz said. At the May minicamp, the team voted to authorize union leaders to strike. The May vote was one short of unanimous, Olkewicz said. He would not disclose the player who voted against a strike. The team's next strike vote would occur right before the date of the strike.