After a couple of days of discussion about why Neal Olkewicz was not playing middle linebacker for the Washington Redskins, guess who was playing middle linebacker for the Washington Redskins yesterday in their first day of practice this week?

Neal Olkewicz.

Starting middle linebacker Rich Milot was not able to practice yesterday due to a sprained left ankle, so Olkewicz, the player representative whose situation is being watched by the NFL Players Association, filled in for him. Milot is expected back at practice today or Friday and is listed as probable for the team's game at Philadelphia Sunday.

"Rich is the starter," Olkewicz said after the practice, his most extensive workout since August. "I'm just doing this because he couldn't go."

Earlier, Olkewicz found himself surrounded by reporters, discussing his position on the team and the NFLPA's position on him. Mark Murphy, the union's assistant executive director who used to be Olkewicz's teammate, said Tuesday, "There is no question he should be playing." Olkewicz injured his right knee in the first preseason game and has not been able to crack the starting lineup since his return and activation coincidental with the end of the players strike.

"The union is just trying to protect their player reps and they're trying to be careful," Olkewicz said. "I have no problems with the fact that the defense is playing great and the linebackers are playing great and they want them to go on without making a switch. I accept that. As far as the defense and linebackers playing great, I agree with that 100 percent."

But, asked if his situation had been blown out of proportion by the media, Olkewicz said, "I'm not stopping you."

Olkewicz and Milot are good friends. Olkewicz took over the team's player representative job from Milot. It hasn't been an easy time for either of them.

"I think we're all friends," Milot said. "It's not like they brought somebody else new in, somebody young. The four of us {Olkewicz, Milot, Monte Coleman and Mel Kaufman} have been here for a long time. The three guys who are playing now, we've all had real good {training} camps, probably the best camps we've had in a long time."

A solution, however implausible, was presented to Olkewicz. The Redskins play the traditional 4-3 defense. Many teams have gone to a 3-4. If the Redskins did that, Olkewicz would have room to start.

Olkewicz smiled. "That's an interesting idea," he said. "But that's not going to happen."