Memories of Max Zendejas linger at Redskin Park, where many Washington Redskins players admit they close their eyes during extra-point attempts.

Last year, kickers Zendejas and Mark Moseley missed seven extra points, the most ever missed in one season by Redskins kickers. And this year, Ali Haji-Sheikh has missed two, though one was blocked and the other miss was because of a bouncing snap from center.

Nonetheless, the botched snap led to a 21-20 defeat in Atlanta, and the blocked kick in last week's 31-27 loss to Philadelphia meant the Redskins needed a touchdown, not a field goal, in their final, last-minute drive.

Coach Joe Gibbs isn't blaming Haji-Sheikh as much as the rest of his special teams, which aren't exactly having a special season.

It seems every special teams practice is an adventure. Yesterday, while they practiced their punt protection, somebody fell on blocker Dean Hamel's leg, and he came up screaming. Trainer Bubba Tyer diagnosed it as a sprained right knee, but Hamel said he still expects to play Sunday against the Lions.

The point is, not much is going right for the special teams. Statistically, the Redskins rank 23rd in the league in kickoff coverage (20.5-yard average) and ninth in punt coverage (7.0). Their punt return team is fifth best in the league (12.3), but their kickoff return team ranks only 19th (18.5).

On other teams, this might not be bad news, but it is here, where Bill Malinchak, Rusty Tillman, Pete Wysocki, Pete Cronan and Otis Wonsley helped develop somewhat of a special-teams tradition. Right now, the oldest special team regulars are 26-year-olds Keith Griffin and Hamel, and Hamel says some of the younger guys don't understand the heritage.

"No, there's not the same pride, because these younger guys see {special teams} as just a thing to do until they're starting," Hamel said yesterday. "They've got to understand how important special teams are. Look, we have a lot of new guys, guys like Ravin Caldwell and Kurt Gouviea. It takes time. And they've got to realize they have to produce."

Another new guy is special teams coach Chuck Banker, who took over when Wayne Sevier left for San Diego this year. Everybody here likes Banker, although Hamel says Sevier used to scream more when players made mistakes. Hamel also says Banker uses different schemes, which, he says, take time to understand.

"We've got a lot of young guys {on special teams} this year, and I think they have the ability to be one of the better groups we've had," Gibbs said yesterday. "But we have not played the way we've wanted to."

Moseley spoiled the Redskins and their fans. He once kicked 69 consecutive extra points until he began struggling in the early 1980s. Still, from 1974 through 1985, Moseley missed only 22 extra points. Ironically, his last kick as a Redskin last season was a shanked extra point against Dallas.

Zendejas then was brought in, but he missed five extra points last year, which brought Jess Atkinson into the picture. Atkinson was eight for eight until he dislocated his left ankle in this year's season opener.

So in came Haji-Sheikh, and you know the rest. Explaining the miss last week against the Eagles, Banker says two Philadelphia linemen penetrated four yards up the middle to tip the kick. He says it wasn't a result of Haji-Sheikh kicking too low.

At times, Gibbs has appeared desperate to repair the field goal and extra-point protection. He has switched snappers (Darryl Grant instead of Jeff Bostic), and he has decided to use only offensive players on the line, instead of mixing in a few defensive players. His reasoning is that offensive players have superior blocking techniques.

The Jets' JoJo Townsell broke both a punt return and a kickoff return for more than 40 yards against the Redskins this year, which originally concerned Banker. But he says there was marked improvement in the last two games against Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Griffin has had a 54-yard kickoff return this year, but some have been critical of his speed and don't think he has breakaway ability. Against the Eagles, he appeared to have room on one return, but managed only 29 yards.

Banker defends him. "Oh, Keith can run," Banker said. "The same thing with Eric Yarber {the Redskins punt returner}. If people are holding onto you, you can't run as fast. Keith's fast enough if we can spring him."

Yarber's longest return is 33 yards, but it wasn't as memorable as Derrick Shepard's 73-yard return in a replacement game against St. Louis. Gibbs, however, won't replace Yarber because he says poor blocking has kept Yarber from breaking a long one.

Said Yarber: "We're not as sharp as we once were, but it's coming. I'm doing my best. I've just got to be patient."

Redskins Notes:

Gibbs announced that ex-replacement safety Steve Gage would be activated to replace injured Clarence Vaughn (sore ankle). Gage, a former college quarterback, will also serve as the emergency quarterback, in case Jay Schroeder and Doug Williams get hurt. Gage took some snaps from center at the end of yesterday's practice, and quarterback coach Jerry Rhome also made him memorize some offensive plays. Rhome said both Gage and tight end Terry Orr can play quarterback in an emergency . . . When Hamel went down yesterday, tight end Joe Caravello replaced him in some short-yardage situations on defense. So Caravello, a former nose tackle, could wind up playing offense and defense Sunday . . . In all, there will be four ex-replacement players on the active roster Sunday: Gage, Caravello, guard/tackle Darrick Brilz and defensive back Dennis Woodberry.