Amid the clatter of the quarterbacking sturm und drang, what's happened to Jeff Bostic seems to have fallen through the cracks and gotten lost somewhere. Progressively, and with chilling bluntness, the dependable veteran who for so many years was the fulcrum of the offensive line has slid from starting center to long snapper for punts. Without passing Go, without collecting $200, Bostic has been, in effect, told to stand on the sideline and try to disappear.

Last season, his seventh in the league, Bostic made every offensive snap on a team that was halted one game short of the Super Bowl. Yet surprisingly, when he reported to training camp this summer, he found out -- by reading it on a depth chart -- he'd lost his starting spot to Russ Grimm, who was being moved over from guard. Joe Bugel's concept stacks bigger, beefier people up front; apparently the over/under is 300. Bostic's only chance to continue starting required him to grow four inches and gain 40 pounds, neither likely. "I haven't noticed my pants' length change in eight or nine years," Bostic said cheerily, "and I don't have any aspiration to weigh 300."

Under Joe Gibbs, team policy had always been that players don't lose their jobs without getting a chance to compete, but Bostic lost his on a meat scale. Confused by a move he thought "could have been handled differently," Bostic nonetheless "accepted it, and tried to play the role that was laid out for me." The role was as back-up center and snapper for punts and placements, but after some poor snaps that may have cost the Redskins four points against the Falcons, Bostic's long snapping duty was halved to punts.

After the strike, Bostic thought he'd have an opportunity to play full-time when Grimm went out in the Eagles game. But his first snap to Jay Schroeder was fumbled -- Gibbs called it a "spooky" play -- and on the next series Bugel decided to shift Raleigh McKenzie to center, Bostic to guard. We're told Bugel "felt more comfortable" that way. For the next game 305-pound rookie Ed Simmons was named starting guard, with Bostic remanded to back-up guard. "It's not a demotion," Bugel insisted, though what else could it be?

"Let's put it this way, it wasn't a promotion," said Bostic, acknowledging he was "shocked and somewhat confused" by the reassignment. "I asked myself how I was good enough to snap every snap in 1986, then be moved to back-up center in 1987, and when the center's hurt still not be able to play? In training camp they said it was my size. Now I'm not so sure." His pride wounded, his dignity offended, Bostic remained gentlemanly about his diminishing role, saying only, "This week leaves me dizzy."

But that was mere prologue for the Lions game when Bostic's star would fade even further. After Simmons went down with 36 seconds left in the first half, Bostic replaced him, and on his first play made a comeback block that gave Doug Williams time to throw a touchdown to Gary Clark. But after being twice penalized for holding in the second half ("poor calls," Bostic thought after reviewing film), Bugel replaced Bostic with Darrick Brilz, the free agent and Scab Ball rookie who's an inch taller and just four pounds heavier. However demoralized Schroeder may have felt at being hooked, he had nothing on Bostic, who spent the remainder of the game in awkward isolation on the sideline, probably so steamed you could poach eggs on his helmet. So far this season the former Pro Bowler Bostic has been shunted aside for Grimm, Darryl Grant on placement snaps, McKenzie, rookie Simmons and now replacement rookie Brilz. That's not a demotion, either?

The Redskins keep saying Bostic is a "very good player," and that he still figures in their plans. But the way it looks they wouldn't put him back on the line if they only had six men out there. If his 19-month-old daughter were old enough to ask exactly what he did at work, Bostic would gently answer, "Every time it becomes fourth down and we have the ball, I snap it to a man who kicks it to the opponents." That's all. He has gone from being a Hog to a slice of bacon. And were his daughter to then ask if he was happy about that, Bostic would pull thoughtfully on a jaw that's as long as an aircraft carrier and say, "Not totally, no."

Quietly, as is his nature, Bostic talks of "reading between the lines," but the words that take shape are "waive" and "trade." Although Bostic keeps himself prepared to play and hopeful that he will, his tenure with the Redskins seems done. "The last few weeks the moves have been pointing that way," Bostic conceded, asking rhetorically, "Are {the Redskins} going to carry a nine-year veteran as a long snapper on punts?"

Coaches are selfish. They usually play people who can help them. Bostic says he's the same player now as he was last year, but even if his skills have eroded through time and punishment he's deserving of respectful treatment. For so many years now we've seen him doing public service ads and recognized him as the cheerful doughboy in the middle of the line. He was the center of the Super Bowl champions. He's been a friendly, graceful ambassador, representing the team and the area with dignity. It's odd, on TV it often looks like Jeff Bostic has no neck, yet here are the Redskins straining to chop it off.