Coach Joe Gibbs moved yesterday to halt a quarterback controversy before it could gather momentum by emphatically announcing that Mark Rypien would be his starter when the Washington Redskins report to training camp in August.

Gibbs left the door open only a bit for backup Stan Humphries, saying he could win the job if Rypien had a poor preseason and Humphries had a very good one.

But he pointed out that Humphries had started five games this season, had thrown three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions "and didn't grab the ring."

In addition, he said Humphries had been hurt too often for the amount of time he has played and hinted his off-the-field work habits could be better.

"Stan had an opportunity this season," Gibbs said. "Had he grabbed it and run off five or six straight wins, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about it. He didn't. And he got hurt. Maybe there's something he can do to prevent that from happening. Those are the opportunities you get in the NFL as a quarterback. All of a sudden you get thrust into it, and after that, you've got to make it happen for yourself."

Humphries stopped short of agreeing with that assessment, but said he'd begin his offseason conditioning work in the next couple of weeks "and make sure I report to camp in the best shape of my life. I can't afford to wait until March or April to get started. I've got to get going now. This will be a big camp for me."

A firm endorsement for Rypien, who passed for 361 yards, but threw three interceptions in Saturday's 28-10 loss at San Francisco, was the biggest news yesterday as the Redskins formally closed out the 1990 season with a 30-minute team meeting and a lot of handshakes.

Gibbs said Sunday "had been a depressing day for all of us. We're proud of what we accomplished, but disappointed we didn't get farther."

He spent yesterday meeting individually with players and tying up loose ends before flying to the Senior Bowl "to start the process all over again. The thing we have to do now is work on getting some better players and making ourselves better."

Humphries knows that when someone enters training camp first on the depth chart, he usually finishes first.

That's the case with Rypien, and in both public statements and private conversations yesterday, the Redskins reiterated their confidence in Rypien, saying he had made some big mistakes, but also made some big-time plays.

They certainly will check around the NFL and up and down the draft lists to see if someone better is available. Their opinion now is that no one better than Rypien -- Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, etc. -- would be available.

Perhaps with that in mind, Gibbs said he planned to go to training camp with a depth chart that has, in order, Rypien first, Humphries second and veteran Jeff Rutledge and rookie Cary Conklin competing for the No. 3 job.

The Redskins could lose Rutledge because they are likely to leave him unprotected in Plan B free agency, but Gibbs said he would like to have him back.

Gibbs also made a case for his starter. He said Rypien may be more appreciated in some other NFL cities than in Washington and revealed that another head coach told him: "His game against Miami was one of the best games any quarterback played in the NFL this season."

Gibbs said Rypien's performance against New Orleans was almost as good and reminded fans that Rypien has started only 32 games "and in that regard, he's still a young quarterback. Remember he was being matched up with Joe Montana out there, and he might be the best to ever play. I'd like to see what {Montana} had done at the same point in his career."

Rypien has made 30 regular-season starts. The Redskins are 19-11 in those games as he has thrown 56 touchdown passes and 37 interceptions.

Montana had very similar numbers. He had one fewer regular-season victory (18-12) and had thrown seven fewer touchown passes (49) and nine fewer interceptions (28). But by the time he had made 30 starts, Montana also had started and won a Super Bowl.

The bigger question the Redskins are asking themselves about Rypien or Humphries has to do, not with how good they are now, but how good they can be next year and the year after. That may be a pointless exercise since there is probably no one better available, and pressed on the matter, Gibbs said he didn't know.

"Being honest, having worked with them, Rip and Stan haven't done it yet," he said. "There'll always be that element of doubt until a quarterback steps up and does it. What Rip showed in his last 14 or 15 starts is that he can play some of the better games that were played in the NFL. We know he's capable of doing that, and we know he's capable of less than that.

"Beyond that, I don't know. What he did this year was get us into the playoffs and beat a Philadelphia team that was one of the better teams in this league. He played his guts out and had us in a position to beat the 49ers had we made a few plays. Can he become an elite quarterback? I don't think I can answer that. I don't think he can {answer that}.

"What has hurt us two years running with Rip being the starter is him being injured. Two years in a row, we get off running with him and feeling pretty good, and he gets hurt. You can't miss big chunks of the season and come back where you left off. He has stepped up a lot and hopefully next year he'll be ready to step up another notch."

Rypien declined to speak with print reporters yesterday, but did do his weekly segment with WRC-TV's George Michael. He expressed optimism that the contract negotiations that fell apart in September could be wrapped up and that he didn't think that would keep him from being in camp on time.

"I tried to block that out and play football and do the things that they asked me," he said. "When we went in to negotiate the contract, the one thing they said was I hadn't taken this team to the playoffs. I can say now that I've won a football game in the playoffs and we'll see where that takes me when negotiations come around."

He also felt good about himself, saying he believed that in winning 13 of his last 17 games as a starter, he deserved to be No. 1.

"No doubt," he said. "I feel once we get all this paperwork taken care of, and everything set aside, I'll be back and ready to lead this team . . . I think I've done some fairly good things around here the last two or three years and gained some respect. I think I still have to go out and earn some more. I've got to really work hard this offseason and put myself in a position where I'm ready to lead this team again."

Humphries said he was only seeking a chance. He said starting five games after Rypien got hurt had been "a learning experience" and given him a taste for more.

"Right now, I'm going to try to get in the best shape I can possibly get into, the best shape I've ever gotten into," he said. "I have to start now. I can't wait until March or April. Once training camp does get here, I expect to battle for No. 1."

Could he accept being a backup?

"We'll have to wait and see how camp goes," he said. "I think going into camp, I'll be fighting to get the No. 1 job and start the first game of the year. That's the opportunity I'm shooting for. If I get the fairness and the opportunity to have it and Mark has a better camp, that's all you can ask for."

Redskins Notes: Trainer Bubba Tyer said four Redskins are scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery this week -- Conklin, defensive end Charles Mann, offensive guard Mark Schlereth and defensive end Jumpy Geathers. All are considered minor "cleanup" procedures, Tyer said. . . . Defensive end Fred Stokes will have his left shoulder examined and a decision will be made on whether he needs surgery, strength work or to again wear a harness to keep it in place.