With the Washington Redskins' new kicker, Ali Haji-Sheikh, sitting nearby, punter Steve Cox sat on the bench in front of his locker munching on a cheeseburger, and thinking out loud about the possibility of walking a picket line and physically preventing someone from trying to fill his job.

"I imagine it would happen," Cox said of the prospect of players using force to keep out replacements in the event of a strike. Then he smiled and said, "I'm not so sure I'd attack some big guy, but I'd do what I could. I'd probably hide behind {Dave} Butz, or stay in my truck. I'd be there, though. Where would be the most likely place they'd try to break through the picket line? Probably between Ali and myself -- the weakest links."

The strike is set to begin as soon as New York and New England finish playing Monday night's game, likely in Tuesday's early morning hours. With the deadline only days away, the strike talk "is in the air," as linebacker Mel Kaufman put it.

All of the Redskins asked yesterday said they were not surprised that the owners' Management Council had rejected the players' latest offer. All expressed a desire to be 2-0 when/if the strike starts. The Redskins play Sunday in Atlanta.

"It's hard not to think about it," said defensive tackle Dean Hamel. "But the way you've got to look at it is to keep playing and make sure we play well. If it happens, we want to be undefeated when it does."

The owners have said if there is a strike, they will continue playing with players who were cut during training camp and other free agents.

"That's no entertainment," wide receiver Gary Clark said. "The fans may as well go to a movie. A movie only costs $5, so at least they can save $20. But nobody wants to strike."

Clark was catching passes for James Madison during the last strike, in 1982.

"I'm new at this," he said of the prospect of picket lines. "Some of the guys have been through this before and I'm sure I'll learn everything I need to know from them. All the guys I've talked to said they don't want to strike, but if we have to, we're ready to go. All we can do now is worry about Atlanta. When it comes, it will come. We've left it in the hands of the negotiators.

"If there is a strike, we want to be 2-0 when it happens because there is always a chance they will put somebody else on the field. The coaches may be against that. They have a good team but then they'll have to coach a bunch of guys they know nothing about. We could be 2-0 when it starts and 2-6 or something when it's over."

Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that he and General Manager Bobby Beathard have not discussed which players the team might use in the event of a strike. "All the emphasis has been on Atlanta," Gibbs said. "Whatever comes after that, we'll face at that time."

The prospect of manning and defending a picket line has run through the minds of Redskins players.

"Hopefully, our presence will be enough," said Keith Griffin, who will start at running back against the Falcons. "If they bring out the guys who were here, we know them, they know us. Hopefully, our presence will change their minds and hopefully we won't have to do anything physical. They all have hearts and they would feel what we feel if they were in our position."

Hamel called it a "touchy subject."

"I hope it doesn't happen," Hamel said. "If the union asks me to stand on a picket line, I will. If a guy tries to come in and play instead of me, he'll have a hard time getting in. {Potential replacements} came in fighting for a job like we were. Then they try and pull this on us. It's so unfair for them to do that. They played next to us and fought for jobs just like we did. They're out and now they're trying to squeeze in. I can't see that."

Players get some of their negotiation news from their union representative, linebacker Neal Olkewicz, and some from the media.

"We've talked to Olkie about it every day," guard R.C. Thielemann said. "Everybody comes up and asks what's going on. Everybody is ready. All we have to do is stay together."

Thielemann, who still lives in the Atlanta area after playing eight seasons with the Falcons, has been in the league for 11 seasons and has seen a couple of strikes.

"I don't think anybody will try to play on the scab teams," Thielemann said. "But then stranger things have happened. When it all hits the fan, that's when you really find out about people."

Olkewicz had said Wednesday that striking players might use physical force to stop others from crossing the line. Thielemann agreed that it might well happen.

"I could see a lot of the players being physically active in the process," Thielemann said with a wry smile. "Hopefully, it won't come down to that. It would be worse, as Russ Grimm said yesterday, if some of our teammates try to cross the line. If you hit him in the eye one day, and the strike is settled the next day, everybody's still going to remember that that guy tried to cross the picket line. It would be an ongoing feud."

Gibbs said there is a "good chance" that Eric Yarber will do the holding on kicks Sunday, but that quarterback Jay Schroeder "is going to be able to do it."

Schroeder's right shoulder was sprained in the opening victory over Philadelphia. Gibbs indicated Schroeder probably won't be placed on injured reserve.

"Jay said he was feeling better and today he had some movement," Gibbs said, adding he still expects it to be two or three more weeks before Schroeder might be able to play quarterback.

Center Grimm (strained back) practiced and Gibbs said, "I expect he'll be okay to play."