CARLISLE, PA., AUG. 21 -- Top draft pick Andre Collins appears to be well on his way to unseating a pair of veterans and winning the starting outside linebacker spot opposite Wilber Marshall.

He started last week's preseason game against Pittsburgh and received high marks. That performance continued an impressive training camp, and coupled with injuries to Ravin Caldwell and Brian Bonner, seems to have elevated his status.

"Actually, Andre got there on his own," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He has been very consistent from Day One. He's been a really pleasant pick."

Linebackers coach Larry Peccatiello said almost the same thing. Asked if Collins now was the de facto starter, he said: "That's a hard question. Ravin's knee is not 100 percent and we don't want to rush him. At the same time, Andre has looked good, and if he continues to improve, I can see that happening."

The Redskins used their first pick -- the 46th overall -- to get Collins, a two-year starter at Penn State. They knew the day they picked him he had the speed to play nickel situations. Their question was about his size. He weighed about 218 and the Redskins wondered if he'd be able to handle blockers at the line of scrimmage.

But he came to camp weighing about 235 and has passed every test. The Other Backers

Caldwell underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee after last season and has practiced and played despite soreness and inflammation. He played only briefly against Pittsburgh and he'll go as long as he can Saturday night in Cleveland.

"He's going to give it a good test and see how it holds up," Peccatiello said. "We're going to take a long look . . . but it's not 100 percent."

The news on Bonner is worse. He sprained his left knee against the Steelers and the best guess is that he's out at least three weeks, which may sideline him for the Sept. 9 opener. . . .

Right side linebacker Marshall practiced at full speed today after bumping his left knee at the end of Monday's second practice. Trainers say he suffered only a bruise. There had been concern it could swell or get sore overnight. It did not. And Yet Another

Another Redskin who received high marks against the Steelers is Kurt Gouveia. He had six unassisted tackles and now is in serious contention to take the starting middle linebacker job away from incumbent Greg Manusky.

"He's good enough to be a starter inside or outside," Peccatiello said. "Right now, he's like our John Havlicek. He's our sixth man and he's going to play a lot. He fits a lot of roles and with him and Monte {Coleman} coming off the bench, we've got an extra ingredient." Grant In, Brown Out

The Redskins received a roster exemption to allow defensive tackle Darryl Grant to practice. But to clear a spot on the 80-man roster for him Saturday, running back Tom Brown will be placed on injured reserve/waivers. Brown underwent knee surgery last week, and if he clears waivers, he'll be on injured reserve for the season.