The Washington Redskins took the expected gambles on Monte Coleman, Russ Grimm, Todd Bowles and several other familiar names yesterday when they left them off the 37-man Plan B protected list so they could hold onto young players such as Brian Mitchell, Brad Edwards, Cary Conklin and Mo Elewonibi.

But they hope -- and expect -- to have all of them back when training camp opens in July. Coach Joe Gibbs made it clear in one-on-one meetings this week with Coleman, Bowles and others that, while they weren't being protected, they're still wanted back.

Every player not on the protected list is an unrestricted free agent during February and March. Each can field offers for eight weeks, deciding to accept a new offer and change teams or stay under the terms of his current contract.

"We've got some guys on that list that I really don't want to lose," Gibbs said. "I'm just holding my breath."

Still, while the list of 23 players contains no surprises, it did give some indication of what the future holds for a few players. Guard Mark Adickes, offensive tackle Ray Brown and special teamer John Brandes -- all former Plan B signees themselves -- were left unprotected, but have assured General Manager Charley Casserly they intend to return.

However, Mark May, one of the original Hogs and a player who set a standard for offensive linemen throughout pro football, yesterday sounded very much like a man who'd played his last game for the Redskins.

He missed all of last season following reconstructive knee surgery, but the ink hadn't even dried on the unprotected list and May's attorney, Ralph Cindrich, had fielded inquiries from eight teams. May and Gibbs held a couple of heart-to-heart meetings the last few weeks and somewhere amid the discussions there seems to be an understanding.

"Coach Gibbs told me if they brought me back it would be in a backup role," May said. "He said he couldn't see me as a backup, and to be honest, I can't see myself in that role either. I want to compete for a starting job. I know it was a tough decision for Coach Gibbs. We've been through a lot together and I told him that no matter happens, we're going to end up being friends."

May, 31, has a $535,000 base salary for 1991, but getting more money and a chance to start someplace may not be a problem since offensive linemen are in such demand.

"You have to look at it as a business decision," he said, "and I honestly don't know what's going to happen. I've never been through this before, and to be honest, I expected it last year. The Redskins protected me even though I'd just had knee surgery.

"They paid me my full salary and that shows what kind of organization they are. They're the best-run organization in sports and no one treats their players better. I don't want to leave. But you have to look at everything. We have a young offensive line and they played well last season. I don't know where I'd fit in."

Another original Hog, Grimm, was left unprotected. The Redskins want him as a backup and Grimm said he'll accept that for 1991. He also told Casserly yesterday that he plans to play just one more season.

May's departure would leave only three of the original Hogs -- Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby and Grimm. Bostic and Jacoby may be around awhile longer since Bostic started every game at center and had one of his best seasons, while Jacoby is projected as a starting guard.

Linebacker Greg Manusky also may depart after having been unprotected for the second straight season. He almost signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last season, but returned and alternated with Kurt Gouveia at middle linebacker. He was listed as the starter for the first seven games, but his playing time decreased as Gouveia played in more and more situations.

"I'm not going to say I'll be back in Washington," Manusky said. "I can't say that. I'm a little disappointed in not being protected. I realize only 37 players can be protected and I'll check out my options. Last year, my best option was to stay in Washington and things worked out for the best."

Likewise, running back Kelvin Bryant probably won't return after five years that will be remembered more for injuries than performances. He came to the Redskins from the USFL and signed a five-year, $3.5 million contract, then missed big chunks of time in four of his five seasons and didn't play at all in 1989.

This season, Gibbs used him only as a third-down specialist in an attempt to keep him healthy. That worked until a knee injury in the 15th game ended his season. Worse, when he was healthy he didn't play very well. He dropped some passes and entered the fourth week of the season with just one catch. He finished with 26 and scored one touchdown.

After finishing his own list, Casserly began examining unprotected players around the NFL. He made some contacts last night and said by Monday he'll have spoken with every player of interest to the Redskins.

Over the two-month signing period, they'll bring in the players for physicals and interviews, both to get to know them and to convince them that Washington is where they ought to play.

"I don't really like the system," Casserly said, "but it's our system, so we do the best we can in it. You don't like knowing you could lose a big part of your team, but you work with what we're given and try to do things to help yourself."