Todd Bowles is on the spot. He hadn't expected to be a focus of attention, but as long as he's going to be on center stage he wants to take advantage of it.

For the first time in 46 regular-season games, someone other than Curtis Jordan will start at free safety for the Washington Redskins, who open the season Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at RFK Stadium. And Bowles is the one.

"I haven't even had a chance to think about it yet," Bowles said. "I suppose if you look at it from the outside, I guess this looks like I'm the man. But there's a lot of guys on this team who have been playing for a lot longer than I have, so I'm just happy to be a part of it."

After his release Monday, Jordan said he could see the team had been headed in that direction since minicamp.

"I didn't know what they were going to do as far as I was concerned," said Bowles, who did start the final preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. "They started to play me a little more. I thought I'd get a little more playing time, but I thought Curtis would be here, truthfully. He's a great player, but the coaches have the say over that."

Bowles and Jordan are from different molds. Jordan was a free spirit with a lot to say. Bowles is more quiet.

"You can't replace a guy like that," Bowles said of Jordan. "He spent a lot of years here {five full seasons} and has a lot of respect. The main thing is not to try to replace him, but to do the things I can do best, and blend in what he has taught me."

In the Redskins' defense, the free safety gets the sign from the bench and relays it to the rest of the team in the huddle. He also is responsible for calling out formations and adjusting defensive alignments when necessary.

"Anytime you lose as much experience as we had with Curtis, you've got to be a little apprehensive," said Richie Petitbon, assistant head coach/defense. "But I think Todd is going to do a very capable job. I have enough confidence that he can handle the job.

"All he needs is a lot of playing time. Certainly he's going to see things that haven't come up, but I have no doubt that he'll be able to handle it."

Bowles, 23, signed with the Redskins as a free agent after the 1986 draft. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Bowles had been an all-East defensive back in his junior year at Temple, but as a senior, he dislocated his wrist, missed five games and heard no telephone ring on draft day.

"The only timetable I had was making the team," Bowles said. "If I made it and got some playing time, I'd have been happy."

Bowles was third on the team last year in special teams hits, worked in several nickel-back alignments and started two games at linebacker, not an easy assignment.

"Oh, I wouldn't say it's easy," Bowles said with a laugh. "I played a lot of rover in college, but here the guys are bigger and the linemen come after your head on every play. I don't think I'd like to have to make a living being a middle linebacker."

Bowles grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., the youngest of four children. His parents were divorced when he was "5 or 6," and his mother, Joan, "pretty much brought me up by herself," Bowles said.

There were six three-story buildings in the project where they lived. "It was like a lot of tough neighborhoods," Bowles said.

"I've seen people get shot and seen people get stabbed, and people doing drugs," Bowles said. "Cops beating people up down by the waterfront. In that respect, you learn you don't want to get involved with that. This was my neighborhood, but there were some nice places in Elizabeth.

"You had to be pretty disciplined. My mother kept me in line. A lot of people make it, but you see a lot of people that went the other way. I learned from other people's mistakes. I'm still learning."

Bowles knows he has a lot to learn about being a free safety, and he knows that opponents will test him.

"I'm looking forward to that challenge," Bowles said. "Everybody has to get their feet wet at some point in time. It might as well be now."

Redskins Notes:

Coach Joe Gibbs said that running backs George Rogers, Kelvin Bryant and Keith Griffin split the chores during yesterday's practice and that it was too early to make a decision on who would start.

As far as Rogers and his sore left big toe, Gibbs said, "It's a matter of how the toe feels . . . I get the feeling it's still sore."

Asked if the decision would be influenced by Rogers coming to him to say he's ready, Gibbs said it would depend on what running backs coach Don Breaux thought.

Breaux said he wasn't ready to say who would start. Asked if he was disappointed that he couldn't say Rogers would start, Breaux said, "I don't know if I'm disappointed. His start and his quickness look good, but there is a tad of soreness.

"George assures me he will be ready and that goes a long way. If he says he'll be ready, that means something. I'd rather he say it than me wish it."

On his way out of Redskin Park, Rogers said the toe was feeling better and that he thought he would be able to go . . .

Cornerback Tim Morrison said before practice that his bruised right calf and ankle are "feeling better." After practice Gibbs said Barry Wilburn, who would start if Morrison can't, took more work than Morrison but that he thought Morrison felt better . . .

Defensive end Dexter Manley practiced again yesterday, Gibbs said.

"He's going to have to tell us, 'I really want to go,' " Gibbs said of Manley, who is recovering from a partial tear in the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. "If he feels like he's ready to roar, we'll put him in."