Linebacker Ken Harvey, who retired from the Washington Redskins during training camp, said yesterday he would be willing to play for the Redskins this season if club officials think he can help the team as a role player.

"I've thought about that," Harvey said. "If it ever comes down to that, I'd consider it. I'm open to it. I wouldn't want to come in and try to take someone's job. But if there's an injury or something and there's a role for me to fill, I would be open to it. I've stayed in pretty good shape, not for the sake of coming back to football but just for the sake of being in shape."

Redskins Coach Norv Turner declined to comment, saying he didn't think it would be proper for him to discuss the matter publicly without talking to Harvey first. But team sources said Redskins officials might be receptive to a comeback by the 34-year-old Harvey under the proper circumstances.

Harvey, who worked out in the weight room at Redskin Park yesterday while Turner and the team were on the practice field, said he hasn't expressed his interest in a comeback to any club officials but would be more than happy to listen if the team contacts him.

"I'm going to take things as they come," Harvey said. "Right now, I'm just trying to enjoy life. Whatever God has in store for me, I'll try to be ready. If it happens, it happens. Everything is possible. That's my philosophy. I've been blessed to play as long as I have. If I can play longer, I'd hope I could contribute. It wouldn't be Ken Harvey just standing around for old times' sake. I would want to be able to help the team."

The Redskins have a 3-1 record, but their defense is ranked last in the NFL. Team officials have been particularly disappointed in the play of their new trio of starting linebackers--Shawn Barber, Greg Jones and Derek Smith. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said this week that the play of Jones, Harvey's replacement at outside linebacker, has been decent, but that Barber has struggled against the run.

Nolan has indicated the Redskins won't make any lineup changes for their game at Arizona next weekend, but he said this week he would like to try to work linebackers Twan Russell and Eddie Mason and cornerback Tim Denton into the mix more often in nickel and short-yardage packages.

Redskins officials believe they probably will have to place backup linebacker Malcolm Hamilton on the injured reserve list, ending his season. Hamilton is suffering from a herniated disk in his back. He has received two cortisone injections, with mixed results, and may have to undergo surgery.

Club officials are considering signing veteran linebacker Kurt Gouveia next week. Gouveia, 35, played for the Redskins between 1986 and 1994. He spent the '95 season with the Philadelphia Eagles, then played with San Diego from 1996 to 1998. If the Redskins place Hamilton on injured reserve and sign Gouveia, he probably would be the backup middle linebacker and veteran Fred Strickland likely would be moved to outside linebacker on the second-string defense. Gouveia also could help on special teams.

Club officials plan to make a decision on Gouveia by early next week. He worked out for team officials Thursday.

Harvey surprised his teammates and coaches when he abruptly decided during training camp to retire. At one point during the offseason, Redskins officials gave Harvey the choice of retiring or being released. But Harvey indicated he wanted to try to play one more season. The Redskins relented and, after renegotiating his contract for a reduced 1999 salary, allowed Harvey to go to training camp and try to make the team as a pass-rush specialist.

Harvey sat out the early stages of camp, then played briefly--and looked good at times--before deciding to retire. He hadn't recovered from the knee injury that ended his '98 season early, and he said his body simply would not allow him to continue playing.

But yesterday, Harvey said martial arts exercises have helped the healing process, and since he knows the Redskins' system, he could be worked into the mix quickly if the team re-signs him.

Harvey said he missed Sunday's comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers but watched the Redskins' first three games of the season.

"There's a confidence in the team," he said. "Losing that first game might have been the best thing that happened to them. They've really come back well from that. I'm happy for the guys. They deserve it."

He has 89 career sacks and was a Pro Bowl performer as recently as 1997, when he led the Redskins with 9 1/2 sacks. He started nine of the 11 games in which he played last season. But the four-time Pro Bowler never has played in a postseason game, and he admitted yesterday that it has been difficult not being part of what looks like a winning season in the making. But he added that if he remains retired, he won't allow himself to be overly disappointed.

"I'm enjoying it pretty well," he said. "I'm enjoying life. You miss the opportunity to play and being out there, but there's give-and-take. You try not to let it bother you. You make a decision, and you live with it. It's nice to spend time with my family."

CAPTION: Ex-Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey, shown in 1998 game, led the team in sacks in '97 and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

CAPTION: "If I can play longer, I'd hope I could contribute," says Ken Harvey, who retired during training camp but has continued recovery from a knee injury.