Linebacker LaVar Arrington walked gingerly among teammates departing Redskins Park yesterday after Coach Joe Gibbs canceled a light practice as a reward for Friday's 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gibbs estimated that Arrington played in roughly 20 snaps, the most action the linebacker has had in an NFL game since his last full game on Sept. 19.

Yesterday, Arrington said that his right knee, which required two surgeries, was sore but felt relatively good. "I don't feel too bad," he said.

Arrington's main postgame pain was a tiny bite wound under his left arm -- from linebacker Marcus Washington's braces. It was a freak accident after the linebackers chest-bumped. "That was my worst wound of the night," Arrington said, chuckling.

After the Redskins were hit hard by injuries last season, Gibbs said that he has been especially nervous this preseason.

"Keeping a team healthy is a huge deal," Gibbs said. "And that's been a big part of what we try to do in some of the things that we've been doing here in getting ready for the regular season.

"We had so many injuries last year. I was kind of praying that we'd be much more in a good-health situation when we got to the regular season."

Thus, Gibbs was particularly pleased about Arrington's 2005 debut.

"We've all kind of been in a similar situation. In my case it was a racquetball tournament," Gibbs said. "I was [in] the best shape of my life, the first racquetball tournament I ever played. And five points into the game, I was shot because of the excitement of getting back in there.

"It's an exhausting thing. I think LaVar gets excited about playing. [But] last night, he handled everything real well. We got just about exactly the number of plays we wanted to get with him."

The most serious injury occurred in the first quarter when safety Matt Bowen bruised his chest trying to tackle tailback Jerome Bettis, who is 5 feet 11 and 255 pounds.

Bowen stayed at a local hospital for a second straight night for observation. But the team's worst fears -- internal bleeding -- were alleviated after an MRI exam came out negative. "He's very sore," Gibbs said, "so they're going to be cautious about it."

NFL coaches generally use their starters sparingly in the last preseason game to decrease the chances of injury. Gibbs's quandary is that several key players have received minimal action during the preseason because of injuries. For example, cornerback Walt Harris (calf) and tight end Robert Royal (shoulder), both projected starters, didn't play against the Steelers.

Punter Tom Tupa has missed two straight games because of a back ailment. Tupa, 39, has missed just one regular season game since 1994 and is coming off a strong season. But Tupa's absence has increased Andy Groom's long-shot chances of becoming the team's punter. Gibbs wouldn't rule out keeping both punters, yet also didn't guarantee Tupa's spot on the opening day roster. "To be truthful, we're looking at all options there," Gibbs said.

Friday night, Groom gave his second straight strong performance, with seven punts averaging 39.3 yards. Groom's long was 52 yards, and four punts were inside the 20. Groom, 25, doesn't have Tupa's touch, but the younger punter's kicks have impressive hang time.

Redskins Notes: Arrington's settlement with the Redskins over his contract dispute gives him the opportunity to become a free agent after the 2006 season. An amendment added to Arrington's contract extension provides the option of voiding his contract if Arrington makes the Pro Bowl in two of the next four seasons. In that scenario, the Redskins must pay Arrington $3.25 million to retain him, a figure that would be added to their salary cap that year. Arrington said that agreeing to the provision doesn't mean he wants to play elsewhere.

He said he thought the amendment "just sends a message that we got it resolved, and [the Redskins] just have the option of buying it back. It's like an honesty clause almost. If I'm playing the way I'm supposed to be playing, it's just a way of putting the money back in there." . . .

Gibbs said that his staff today will start the process of deciding whom to release before Tuesday's league deadline. The Redskins must trim their roster from 86 players to 65, not including seven exemptions for NFL Europe. After Tuesday's releases, the Redskins must make final cuts for the 53-man roster by Saturday.

"Our first cuts are pretty easy," said Vinny Cerrato, the team's vice president of football operations. "The players play themselves on or play themselves off. To get to 53 the following Saturday, there'll be some tough ones." . . .

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey gave his best performance of the season Friday after rebounding from a first-quarter interception, which he threw to the right of intended receiver James Thrash, who cut to the other direction. The interception was returned 34 yards for a score.

"Many times on something like that, it's communication," Gibbs said. "In other words, if the quarterback is expecting a faster outbreak, then obviously he's ready to throw it in that position where he thinks it's going to be. We're probably even going to change the way we would throw that pass." . . .

Cornerback Artrell Hawkins (hamstring) was released after working out an injury settlement with the team.

LaVar Arrington's right knee was sore after Friday's game against the Steelers, but he said he felt fine. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs estimated that linebacker LaVar Arrington, above stopping Steelers running back Verron Haynes, played in roughly 20 snaps Friday, the most action he has had since his last full regular season game Sept. 19.