This is the time of year when football coaches get very worried and football players get very tired. In the next few days, college teams around the nation will begin practice, trying to patch up holes left by graduation and put together a competitive team in the roughly three weeks before season openers creep up in early September.

And as the grueling two-a-day preseason football practice begins around the Washington area, there is plenty of optimism to go around.

At Howard and Virginia the idea is to keep winning. At Maryland and Navy transition is the key word.

Virginia will spend its preseason trying to rebound from a spring practice that head coach George Welsh described as "not good at all."

"I've got my fingers crossed for preseason practice," said Welsh. "How you practice in preseason determines a lot about how you play in the regular season."

The Cavaliers have the tough task of trying to improve upon last year's 10-3 record, the best in the team's 101-year history. The key to their success once again will be the offense, led by quarterback Shawn Moore, perhaps a Heisman Trophy contender.

At Howard, second-year coach Steve Wilson has the Bison thinking MEAC championship after finishing a surprising 8-3 and second to Delaware State in the conference last year. "We turned the corner last year," he said.

Although only three starting defenders return, all three were preseason all-conference picks: nose tackle Brian Taltoan, linebacker Kenneth Newsome and defensive back Walter Price. Wilson called the trio "a strong nucleus."

Howard's offense returns seven starters, including leading rusher James Carpenter. But Wilson said he intends to throw more this year, with senior quarterback Donald Carr.

In College Park, the Terrapins are trying to improve on last year's disappointing 3-7-1 record and sixth-place finish in the ACC. It won't be easy. The Terps have only two offensive starters returning (nine on defense). They'll also have to make the transition from all-purpose quarterback Neil O' Donnell, a third-round NFL draft pick, to senior Scott Zolak.

Head coach Joe Krivak's preseason focus? "Our focus is on winning," he said. "We have a lot to work on. I was very pleased with what we did in the spring, and I hope we can carry that enthusiasm into the fall. I like the attitude of this team."

The Terps also have been hit with academic casualties. Joel Goode, expected to contend for one of the starting outside linebacker spots, was declared academically ineligible last week, and senior starters Karl Edwards (LB) and Clarence Jones (OT), both potential all-ACC selections, are in summer school trying to become eligible.

In Annapolis, Navy's preseason objective is to iron out the wrinkles in a new offense. First-year coach George Chaump scrapped the wishbone and replaced it with a pro-style multiple offense.

"We're going to try and pick up where we left off in the spring," said Chaump. "Our {coaching} staff is all new, of course. And we're trying to teach the techniques and execution of the new system. But I'm surprised at how well the players have adapted."

The switch from the wishbone to the pro-style attack means senior quarterback Alton Grizzard, who led the Midshipmen with 626 rushing yards last season, will have to throw the ball much more than 147 times, his 1989 total (with 67 completions).

In Chaump's favor is the fact that seven starters return from the 1989 offense along with six defensive starters. But improving on last season's 3-8 record will be quite a task .