The good news for the Washington Redskins yesterday afternoon during a bone-chilling, two-hour practice was that their starting offensive line may remain intact for another week.

Guards Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Schlereth both took more than half the snaps with the first unit, and line coach Jim Hanifan predicted they'll be back in the starting lineup for Sunday's regular season finale against Buffalo at RFK Stadium.

The Redskins returned to work yesterday not expecting either player to be available. Each suffered a sprained ankle near the end of Saturday's 35-28 loss to Indianapolis, and Hanifan had planned to put Russ Grimm and Mark Adickes back in the starting lineup.

Not that it would matter much, because, in a season when the Redskins have raised inconsistency to something approaching an art form, the play of their offensive line has been as steady as ever. That was true the first nine weeks when there was only one change among the starting group, and it has been true the last six weeks when the same unit has started back-to-back games just once.

The Redskins thought that might be the case back in training camp when they welcomed the return of Joe Jacoby and Grimm for a 10th season and Jeff Bostic for his 11th. They thought those veterans still could play and predicted that youngsters such as Schlereth and McKenzie would press for playing time.

They thought enough of their offensive linemen to slide several veterans at other positions through waivers while holding onto 10 linemen when the roster was cut to 47 players. And they've needed almost all of them.

The only constants have been Pro Bowler Jim Lachey at left tackle and Bostic at center. Every other position seemingly has been interchangeable, and since Coach Joe Gibbs went back to establishing the run six weeks ago, the results have been impressive.

Down the stretch, when the Redskins have won four of six games to clinch a playoff spot, they've averaged 150 rushing yards a game -- tops in the NFC. Earnest Byner has gotten most of that total -- 123 yards a game -- but the line has done everything else well. They've allowed 22 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL. And they've allowed only five the past six weeks.

"I'm real proud of this group," Hanifan said. "The fortunate thing is they're all smart guys and they're very adaptable. We started right out in training camp moving guys around and you're lucky when you've got guys good enough to do it."

A lot of them may be good, but Lachey and Bostic are very good. Lachey, 27, has established himself as perhaps the best all-around offensive lineman in football, and in Week 12 against Miami became only the second lineman in six years to be named NFC offensive player of the week.

He also made the Pro Bowl two years ago while playing for the Chargers, and NFL researchers are attempting to find the last player to start for both the NFC and AFC squads.

He draws the opponent's best pass rusher every week, and this week will get the best in football -- Buffalo's Bruce Smith, who has 19 sacks and an outside shot at the AFC record of 22 set by former New York Jet Mark Gastineau.

Smith said yesterday that he respects Lachey, but when asked if he expects the Redskins to let Lachey go one-on-one with him, he said: "That would be an insult. I do think Lachey's a very good offensive lineman. I played against him when we were rookies and I have high regard for him.

"But if I'm not double-teamed, it makes me feel like I'm not doing my job. It's my personal thinking that I have to be double-teamed. A double team turns me on and makes me work that much harder."

Lachey declined to talk about Smith or the challenge of playing him, but it's likely he'll get help from someone.

Meanwhile, Bostic, 32, was supposed to be long gone by now, especially in 1984 when he wrecked a knee. Gibbs still remembers his return the next year.

"It was on artificial turf against {the Giants'} Leonard Marshall," he said. "He didn't even know he was going to play. Jacoby couldn't go and we stuck him in there. I knew he wouldn't play great, but it says a lot about him that he would give it a try. A lot of guys would have said: 'I'm not doing this.' He hadn't even worked at guard that much."

He was all but ushered out the door in 1987 when former line coach Joe Bugel wanted nothing but 300-pounders across the line. Bostic spent the first seven games on the bench that season, wondered if he was finished as a Redskin, and finally got another chance when two others got hurt.

"Instead of being upset and sulking, he said: 'I'm going to make the most of this,' " Gibbs recalled. "He hasn't been out of there since."

And now, he looks like he may never leave. Only 13 Redskins have played more games and he's the only offensive player to start every game the past two years.

He's at that peculiar point in his career where he's still at the top of his game, even while knowing the end is not too many years away. That means a certain appreciation.

"He has had a great year," Gibbs said. "He's been up against some of the best nose tackles all the way and has had a fine year. He has hardly missed a snap. He's amazing in that a guy like that is not big enough; doesn't look like he'd be a real physical guy. But he gets great leverage, he's super smart and when you're around the guy, you realize he's a fantastic competitor."

Said Bostic: "If you don't love it, you ought to go find something else. This is a game, and if you can't find some enjoyment in that, you shouldn't be here."

Bostic, Grimm, Jacoby and Mark May -- who has recovered from knee surgery, but hasn't been activated -- have 528 games of experience among them. They've been around for every game of the Joe Gibbs era. They were the guys that Bugel thought of when he came up with the nickname "Hogs" and they've performed just as well for Hanifan.

Bostic never did make 300 pounds. He's weighing in at about 270 these days, and has put that up against more than a few 300-pound nose guards this season.

He began the season with Grimm on his left and Schlereth on his right. In Week 5, McKenzie replaced Schlereth.

Then in Week 10, the shuffle began. Bostic played between Adickes and McKenzie one week, between Grimm and McKenzie for two and between Jacoby and McKenzie for one.

The last two weeks have seen McKenzie on his left and Schlereth back on his right, and that's likely to be the way the Redskins line up against the Bills.

"It matters that people keep changing," Bostic said. "There's a communication that you have to have. Fortunately, I've played beside all the people who've been interchanging. I might call someone the wrong name for a little while, but that's about it."