Odds are that Washington Redskins wide receiver Gary Clark will play Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome, what with his great debate skills.

His strained left thigh kept him out of practice again yesterday, but he sneaked out of the trainers room to watch anyway. He listened in on all the play calls, and clapped with everyone else when they broke the huddle. This is his way of telling Coach Joe Gibbs to let him play, which is exactly what he did last time he was injured.

That last time was seven games ago, when he had a sore hamstring before the Redskins played in Philadelphia. Clark showed up early one day and begged Gibbs to use him, and Gibbs gave in. Clark is the kind who's had the seven-year itch far more than seven years.

"To keep Gary Clark out, you've got to hide his uniform," trainer Bubba Tyer said yesterday.

Naturally, the training room is a nuisance for most, but what if you had to live there? Clark -- whose competitiveness is "one in a million," according to assistant trainer Keoki Kamau -- has a hard time being there for an hour. Imagine how tight end Anthony Jones, who has just spent the past year in intimacy with that room, must feel.

Jones injured his right knee in a game last December against Denver and essentially had it rebuilt. Some call it reconstructive knee surgery, but it's also reconstruct-your-life surgery.

For instance, Jones was in the hospital several days after the operation and couldn't even move to clean himself. In May, April and June, he says, he woke up several nights in a cold sweat because his contract had run out, and the Redskins could have waived him at any time -- injury or no injury. Plus, he had no idea how the knee was coming along.

Therapists had him working out in an Aqua Arc, a 7-foot-deep whirlpool bath. He'd stand in it and move his leg around, but it kept hurting nonetheless. At times, he and Kamau would scream at each other, because Kamau thought Jones needed to take it easy for a day or two, and Jones would do nothing of the sort.

So a year and a week after surgery, Jones showed up in a Redskins uniform against the Miami Dolphins and got a standing ovation from trainers Tyer and Kamau and strength coach Dan Riley.

"I don't know what he was supposed to do on special teams," Riley said yesterday. "But when he ran down there {against Miami}, even if he had fallen on his face, I'd still have given him a high five."

Actually, Jones got in for four plays against the Dolphins -- two were blocking assignments near the goal line (he helped clear the way on George Rogers' touchdown), and the two others were kickoff returns. Yesterday, though, he was in for many plays during practice and could fill in some at H-back if Clint Didier still is bothered by a sore groin.

In fact, Jones has already moved ahead of Joe Caravello as the Redskins' second blocking tight end on short-yardage plays (the other is starter Don Warren). The Redskins spent a whole year trying to find a big tight end to replace Jones, and that's why they converted Caravello from nose tackle.

Still, a year and a week later, Jones has his job back.

"He'll give us a lift," assistant coach Joe Bugel said of Jones and the Redskins running game. "We missed him. He's a good addition for us, now that it's crunch time."

Rennie Simmons, tight end coach, said: "{Anthony's} experienced and knows our system really well, plus he was one of our best special teams players last year {actually, he was special teams captain}. Joe Caravello {a former replacement player} had never been a tight end before, and the game plans were more complex after the strike. He could do the job, but we're just leaning toward Anthony now because of his experience."

Actually, Riley says both of Jones' knees are stronger physically than ever before, and paranoia has a lot to do with that. He was so concerned with his comeback, he overcompensated and never took a day off from lifting weights.

"It feels good that I'm back," Jones said, "but it was a tough ordeal. Somebody else is doing your job, and they were looking the whole time {for a new big tight end}. And as we found out during the strike, everyone's replaceable.

"There were only so many things I could do, but -- in the long run -- it made me a better person, and I realized football is a gift to me and every time I step on the field now, I want to say 'Thank you, God' for giving me another opportunity."

Meanwhile, Clark is praying that he'll play Saturday, but -- if not -- former replacement player Anthony Allen likely would take his place on the roster and Clarence Verdin would start.

"I kind of want to wait {until today} to decide on Clark," Gibbs said with a wink. "Before, I've kind of ruled {Clark} out, and he's come in the next day {and pleaded to play}. So I'll wait."

Considering the Redskins already are in the playoffs, it might be logical to rest Clark, but Tyer said, "Yeah, but at the same time, you want to win. Plus, we've got two weeks after that {before the first playoff game} . . . You should've seen him before that Philadelphia game. We told him he couldn't play over and over, and he was mad. He was mad in team meetings. He doesn't like to be told he can't play."

Clark was unavailable for comment.

Redskins Notes:

Tight end Didier (groin injury) was in uniform, but didn't do much running during practice. He still is listed as probable, though . . . Gibbs told his players to enjoy Christmas Eve with their families, because they have to leave for Minnesota this afternoon, on Christmas Day . . . Steve Cox, describing his 67-yard field goal attempt against the Dolphins that fell short and wide, says the 30-second clock was winding down and the kick had to be rushed. "Jay Schroeder {his holder} and I had just made the spot, and he said, 'We've got to hurry.' But that's no excuse. I've hit them {from 67} before, and I felt confident, but you've really got to get all of it."