ASHBURN, Va. -- Wide receiver Desmond Howard seems to have gotten the message that good practice habits are the ticket to getting on the field for the Washington Redskins.
How he got the message, though, is still a matter of some debate.
"It wasn't like on a one-to-one basis [with the coaches] or anything like that," Howard said yesterday.
He laughed and added: "I think I've heard it through media rumors more than anything else."
Offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower had a different version.
"Let's get the record straight: It has been mentioned [to him by the coaches]. I've mentioned it. Rennie's [receivers coach Rennie Simmons] mentioned it. So whatever he says, fine. It's not the case [that he wasn't told]. He knows," Dowhower said.
Dowhower's comments were the first public confirmation that Howard was told he wouldn't play more until he stepped up his play in practice.
Howard, who was slowed by a groin injury this year and has caught one pass in the first three games, seems to be doing just that.
"I think that's water under the bridge. He had a great practice Friday. They all did. He's fallen in line with the other guys. He's doing what he's supposed to do," Dowhower said.
Head coach Richie Petitbon, who said he hasn't talked to Howard about the situation, said: "I think Desmond knows what we want. I think Desmond's working very hard right now."
Howard said: "I tried to prepare myself last week by practicing well. I wanted to go out and pick up the intensity in practice and show the coaches basically I'm ready to play."
The timing couldn't be better, because Art Monk sprained his knee warming up for a bye-week practice Friday and missed yesterday's drill.
The Redskins are downplaying the injury and say Monk will be ready to play against the Miami Dolphins Monday night.
"I think Art should be all right," Dowhower said. "He rode the bike hard today, and that's the feeling I got from talking to Art today." Monk rarely gives interviews and wasn't available for comment.
But if Monk is slowed at all, Howard could get more of a chance, although he said he doesn't want it to be at Monk's expense.
"That's a sad situation. Art's been playing very well. I'd like to see him out there. He's an inspiration to the other receivers," Howard said.
Even though the Redskins paid two No. 1 picks for Howard when they traded up to the fourth spot in the 1992 draft to select the Heisman Trophy winner, he caught only three passes last season after he missed training camp in a holdout. This was supposed to be his year, but he got off to a slow start in camp because of the groin injury.
As a result, Monk, who was demoted in the off-season, was able to win the third spot behind Ricky Sanders and Tim McGee, and Howard was left in limbo as the fourth receiver. But Dowhower says he's still counting on Howard.
"He's a talented guy. I'm sure when the bell rings and it's time to make a play, he'll make a play. He's just playing behind three good players. Let's face it, he really didn't have a chance because of his injury to compete with the rest of the receivers," Dowhower said.
The groin injury also may have hindered him in practice, but the Redskins coaches want to see young players -- even Heisman Trophy winners -- do it in practice before they put them on the field.
Though Howard's limited playing time has been the subject of much discussion on the Washington talk shows, Howard hasn't complained.
"I think patience is a virtue," he said. "You have guys playing great. You have to be patient and make sure you work hard and when the opportunity comes, you're ready. I'm taking a chapter out of Monk's book and not letting a lot of external factors get to me."
Howard said his goal is playing and getting a win in Miami, even if he doesn't catch many passes.
"We definitely want to walk out of there with a victory," he said. "That's the most important thing. I'll trade a touchdown catch for a key block that springs Earnest Byner or Reggie Brooks for a touchdown."
NOTES: Petitbon said the bye week couldn't have come at a better time. "We're obviously feeling a lot better physically," he said. Moe Elewonibi and Mark Schlereth returned to practice yesterday, so the offensive line should be intact for the Dolphins. . . . LB Andre Collins, who feared he had appendicitis last week, but found he was suffering from salmonella poisoning, also practiced and should play. He says he thinks he got the illness from eating eggs that weren't cooked well enough. He missed the first three games with a knee injury, but is fine now. . . . QB Mark Rypien (knee) and DL Eric Williams (knee, hip) figure to miss the Miami game, and the Redskins are not sure whether rookie DL Sterling Palmer (knee) can make it.