No preview of the Washington Redskins' 1987 season should go more than 20 words without mentioning the New York Giants.

In the eight months since the Redskins lost the National Football Conference championship game at the Meadowlands, the Giants never have left their thoughts. The Redskins decided they needed a bigger line to keep up with the toughest defenses, one of those being the Giants'. Coach Joe Gibbs placed a new emphasis on weight training to emulate the Giants' bulk -- and liked the results. He moved all-pro guard Russ Grimm to center, to replace Jeff Bostic, who weighs 15 pounds less.

Whenever they were asked about their prospects this season, Redskins players mentioned the Giants: Beating the Giants, avenging three consecutive losses in an otherwise splendid 1986 season.

"I would say we're obsessed with the Giants, at least in preseason," guard R.C. Thielemann said. "Once we start the season, of course, we will be obsessed with who we play that week. But, in our preparation, our main thrust is beating the Giants."

The Redskins and Giants meet in week five at the Meadowlands and week 12 at RFK Stadium. The first game, at least, will be treated like an October Super Bowl. But will the results be any different this year?

With a maturing offense and stable if unspectacular defense, the Redskins are likely to be as good as they were last season. It certainly looks as though they have the talent to make the playoffs. However, the Redskins don't appear to have gotten much better. Except for injuries, the players who start against Philadelphia at 1 p.m. Sunday at RFK Stadium will be basically the same players who started the NFC championship game. Playoffs? Yes, probably. Division championship? Well . . .

The Redskins identified their linebacking corps as a weakness last season. But they didn't draft or trade for a linebacker in the offseason, preferring to rely on three young players from injured reserve -- Ravin Caldwell, Kurt Gouveia and Anthony Copeland. They will be the reserves this season. The tried and true starters are Rich Milot, Mel Kaufman (who has looked very good returning from a ruptured Achilles' tendon) and Monte Coleman, until Neal Olkewicz returns from his knee injury. All are 29 or 30 years old.

"They spent three months talking about cutting us all and now they can't wait to get us back," Olkewicz said. "Time heals all wounds."

But does it heal all knees by Sunday?

The Redskins are most concerned about defensive end Dexter Manley's right knee, injured Aug. 8 in a scrimmage. Without Manley, the team's leading sacker with 18 last season, the Redskins' pass rush is suspect. Charles Mann is healthy and confident, hoping to return to the level of two seasons ago, when he pushed Manley with 14 1/2 sacks. The tackles are familiar and solid: Dave Butz, at 37 the oldest non-quarterback in the NFL, and Darryl Grant, who regained his job in the middle of last season after injuring a knee in 1985.

The defensive area with the most potential change this season is the secondary. There, 33-year-old free safety Curtis Jordan has been locked in a fierce battle with second-year player Todd Bowles, while Vernon Dean and Barry Wilburn both are trying to hang onto reserve spots. The starters at cornerback are all-pro Darrell Green and Tim Morrison, in his second season from North Carolina. The strong safety is Alvin Walton, also in his second season. If Bowles does take Jordan's job, Washington will start three second-year players and Green, who is in his fifth year. Assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon said he thinks the secondary will be the Redskins' best since their Super Bowl years of 1982 and 1983. "We've got a lot of kids with talent," he said. "It's a situation you always hope you can come up with."

Brian Davis, the team's top draft choice, is likely to play as a reserve this season. After having so many problems with early-round draft picks, the Redskins are pleased Davis is working out.

On offense, there's Jay Schroeder, Art Monk, Gary Clark, George Rogers, Kelvin Bryant, Clint Didier and the Hogs, led, as always, by tackle Joe Jacoby and Grimm.

"Our offense has the potential to be just as good or even better than the last few years," Monk said. "With the young guys with strength on the line -- Rollo {Raleigh McKenzie} and Ed Simmons -- we look good. We're real strong at receiver, maybe the best we've ever been. Jay is only going to get better, we hope, and the running game looks good."

Injuries hurt the Redskins running game in the preseason, which is exactly what the coaches did not want to have happen. The Redskins running game, once one of the best in the league, dropped to 17th last season. Washington simply could not run against the Giants, hence the change in the line, demoting Bostic, moving Grimm and inserting McKenzie. Once Rogers, the team's leading rusher the last two seasons, gets over his sprained left big toe, he is going to find himself being pushed not only by Bryant, the passing-down back, but also by rookie Timmy Smith, the surprising fifth-round draft choice. The Redskins know they need to find someone to get the tough yardage, especially at the goal line or on third- or fourth-and-one. If it's not Rogers, it could be Smith.

Much has been said about the Rogers-Bryant time-sharing concept. As long as they are healthy (and that's simply an assumption at this point), they both will play, just not at the same time in Gibbs' one-back offense.

"It's not like Brillo pads," said offensive assistant Dan Henning. "You wear one out, throw it away and get a new one. No. These running backs have to be like those Handiwipes, where you can wring them out, hang them up and use them again. What I'm saying is they have to be healthy and available, which has been a problem this summer."

One might ask how the passing game could be much better than it was in 1986, with Schroeder making the Pro Bowl in his first full season, and Clark and Monk becoming the NFL's leading receiving tandem and going to Hawaii with him. Third receiver Ricky Sanders is very promising and could play often.

But the Redskins realize Schroeder will have to improve his throwing on the run and completing the short, "touch" passes. They have no problems throwing long. It's the short stuff that hurt them last season -- and opposing defenses know that.

Tight end and H-back used to be a strength on this team, with Don Warren and Didier, a blossoming deep threat who averaged 20 yards per catch last season. But Didier and backup Terry Orr are injured, meaning newcomers Glenn Dennison and Craig McEwen will have to handle the H-back position until they return. Warren is likely to be backed up by another newcomer, Chris Dressel.

Ironically, perhaps the biggest change on the offense, outside of injuries, is the return of Henning after he was fired as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Gibbs said Henning already has added wrinkles to the offense, nothing a fan would notice, but something subtle and surprising, the Redskins hope.

Special teams, a Washington forte for years, are questionable. Kicker Jess Atkinson and punter Steve Cox are steady and dependable, to be sure, but the coverage and return teams had their problems during the preseason. This is a major concern as the season begins.