The Washington Redskins yesterday began practicing for Super Bowl XXII with a flurry of activity:

Kicker Jess Atkinson said he "feels better" and appeared to kick much better in practice than he did three weeks ago. Wide receiver Art Monk practiced and looked like "his old self," said Coach Joe Gibbs. Linebacker Rich Milot said he agreed with the coaches' decision to deactivate him for the NFC championship game. And Gibbs announced the team is flying to San Diego Sunday evening, a day earlier than planned.

While Gibbs said nothing to indicate he is going to replace kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh, Atkinson said, "I don't know how I compare to three weeks ago, but I do feel better than I did before. I don't know what Joe is thinking about how to evaluate it. But being around this place as long as I have, I want to contribute and help in the Super Bowl, if he wants me to."

The day after the NFC championship game, Gibbs said he would not completely rule out the possibility that Atkinson, who dislocated his left ankle Sept. 13, could be kicking in the Super Bowl, but said, "Right now, if you asked me, my honest answer {is} we will start the way we did last week, with Ali in there."

Gibbs said yesterday he watched both kickers practice and thought they looked "okay."

"If there's a change on the kickers, I'm going to let you know," Gibbs told reporters. "But, basically, we're just going to go right ahead, just like we have been doing. The only thing I said is I'm going to just watch them. I think if there's a change there, I'd say something and, otherwise, we're going to go with Ali."

Gibbs was asked if Atkinson looked better yesterday than he did in the toe-to-toe competition with Haji-Sheikh before the Chicago playoff game, which Gibbs quickly ended when he found out Atkinson was not yet ready.

"I saw him kick only four or five balls," Gibbs said.

Haji-Sheikh missed two of three field-goal attempts in the Redskins' 17-10 victory over Minnesota and has missed five of his last eight attempts. "I'm just going out and kicking," Atkinson said, "just in case they want me to play."

Monk, who suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Dec. 6, returned to practice in the team's light workout and worked with the first team. He wore a brace on his knee and declined comment after practice.

"He ran today and looked good," Gibbs said. "I think that'll be something we just have to evaluate as we go. If he continues to look good, if he's 100 percent, it depends on how he feels, really, I think, as we practice along next week. I think the next few days will probably tell {if he will play in the Super Bowl}. We'll probably have a better idea after Saturday, but I felt like he ran good today and looked like he was his old self."

For the first time since the strike, Milot spoke at length with reporters about his status with the team. Milot said he still has not completely recovered from a sprained left ankle Nov. 1, estimating he is only 80-85 percent healthy. In fact, he said if he had to do it over, he would go on injured reserve.

Milot, 30 and in his ninth year as a Redskin, was placed on the inactive list for the NFC title game so the Redskins could activate cornerback Tim Morrison for depth behind injured cornerback Darrell Green.

Milot said he expects to play in the Super Bowl, "but that could change, too." He wonders what his future is with the Redskins, but he chose to speak up and defend himself yesterday.

"I think I've had some of the best games I've had in my life this year, and I think those are on film," he said. "I think I had by far the best preseason I had here as a Redskin. So I don't feel my abilities have tailed off. Apparently someone else does. I don't know who that is yet."

Asked to explain how his and Neal Olkewicz's fates flip-flopped in midseason, Milot said, "I can't figure anything out. It's not just me. You can look around. One of the best linemen in football {center Russ Grimm} is not playing. And I can understand my situation. You don't want to disrupt things when things are going okay. The bottom line is, regardless of what I say, the team's won and it's going to the Super Bowl. I could say I'm the next coming of Lawrence Taylor and it doesn't mean anything, because the team's winning.

"I'd just like to clear the air about things that were said, that I'm slow. I've never been slow in my life and I don't think I'm slow now. I'm a linebacker that's been able to run under a 4.6 here on an occasion or two, and I don't think that's slow. I was also a nickel linebacker for the beginning of the year and you don't put slow people in nickel."

Milot is regarded as the sixth of six Washington linebackers. Asked if his job is in jeopardy, he said, "I think you'd have to be a moron not to think that. But I think if I'm given another shot here or anywhere else, I'm very confident in my abilities."

He said he has kept quiet until now because he didn't want to make waves.

"I want my feelings to be known, but I also don't want to disrupt my teammates because I think this is a great opportunity . . . Whatever their feelings are upstairs {in the coaches' offices}, that's their feelings, that's between me and them. It's not supposed to become a shouting match in the paper. I'd just like to tell them I'm confident in my abilities. The way I played was on film. I don't think you can dispute that. And when I had the problems, it was starting from the injury. I've never had the opportunity to come back from that injury."

Yet he said he had "no criticism" of the youth movement or the NFC title game decision.

"I've had trouble coming back from a physical standpoint," he said. "I'm not against younger guys. As a matter of fact, I think it's the right thing to do. I have no criticism of that move. I think in a lot of ways, it was an appropriate move. The amount of playing time I was getting was a minimum. Under those circumstances, I agree with them."

The Redskins will practice today and Saturday, will hold a light workout Sunday and then catch a 5:30 p.m. charter to San Diego, Gibbs said. He said the team is traveling a day earlier to "get adjusted" and not feel "rushed."