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Green Always Had It Covered

Ex-Redskin Made Several Adjustments Over 20-Year Career

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H02

A whisker under 5 feet 9, Darrell Green made his living in the land of relative giants. He measured himself against the likes of 6-2 Jerry Rice, the most prolific wide receiver of them all; engaged in epic confrontations with 6-3 Michael Irvin; and rendered 6-4 Randy Moss incidental during their one-on-one encounter in the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver's rookie season.

So don't tell the retired cornerback who played 20 years with the Washington Redskins about mismatches favoring the latest crop of big wide receivers. He's the guy who stared down Harold Carmichael, all 6-8 of him, and won.

"If you were the superstar, I pretty much was your guy all day," said Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl pick. "I played them all."

Having done so, Green takes a matter-of-fact attitude toward the proliferation of big wide receivers in the league. Of the first five wide receivers selected in this year's NFL draft, four are at least 6-2. The 29th pick, Michael Jenkins, is 6-4. The premier group of wide receivers over the past half dozen seasons includes Moss, Terrell Owens (6-3), Amani Toomer (6-3), Eric Moulds (6-2) and David Boston (6-2) when healthy.

"It's more rotating. It's rotating versus evolving because evolving can mean unending. Rotating means small sometimes, big the next," Green said. "One week I'm playing Michael Irvin, who's probably 6-3 or whatever, and the next I'm playing a Gary Clark type of kid. You might have a large group of [Michael] Irvins, Cris Carters, Randy Moss, Mike Quick, Al Toon. So this group could show up all of sudden. Then all of sudden, here come the midgets. The little run-'n'-shoot guys can begin to dominate the game."

That group includes Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt and Rod Smith more recently, and Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and Steve Largent during Green's early years.

"Steve Largent couldn't outrun your mama. But he was quick, his routes were excellent, and he had great hands," Green said. "So do I want to take him, or do I want to take Cliff Branch? Or do I want to take Marvin Harrison, who is quick as a mouse and fast, not big, but quick and fast?"

Meticulous in the film room studying tendencies, strengths and flaws in each wide receiver he would have to cover, Green had opponents all but outsmarted before kickoff. He said the fast guys never bothered him because he could outrun every player in the league. He handled the big guys with guile and played the angle and direction of the pass more than the man.

Green's most demanding opponents instead were wide receivers who did not rest on the field, even if they were not involved in the play.

"If you follow the sport in terms of wide receivers, you understand this," Green said. "There are a number of attributes that go with the position. Number one is speed. Number two, quickness. Number three is route running. Number four is hands. Number five is heart.

"I will say this, the number one thing that I thought that if you brought to the game that I had to contend with was your heart. If you were a battler, if you were a competitor. Guys who weren't wimps. Guys who were tough.

"When you ask who's the greatest, I think it was Jerry Rice, because if he didn't have a number one, he's a number two, three or four in most of the categories. So Cliff Branch, number one in terms of speed, number seven or ten in route running. Michael Irvin, number one in heart, number 12 in speed."

So who was Green's fiercest rival?

"I would have to say [Irvin] would be at the top of that list," he said of the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver who is in his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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