He has gone from an injured rookie who thought his days were numbered to one of the leading kick returners in the National Football League and one of the most exciting Washington Redskins in years - all in the span of about five weeks.

Tony Green likes to do everything fast.

"It's kind of scary how good he can be," said Redskins' special teams' Coach John Hilton yesterday. "He doesn't know that much about catching punts or anything like that yet and he is still a great returner."

The wincing by Redskin followers - and players - after the preseason trade of Eddie Brown to Los Angeles has turned to smiles. Green is not as experienced as Brown, but he is quicker, faster and more of a threat to go all the way each time he catches the football.

In fact, Green already has gone all the way - an 80-yard punt return Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. That has helped him average 19 yards on six returns and he leads the NFL with 114 total yards in punt returns.

He has returned six kickoffs for a 25.2 average with a long return of 41 yards, ranking him third in the NFC.

Green is the only NFL player to return either a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown this season.

Green still is the bubbly, exuberant rookie he was a month ago, but he tries to be businesslike and serious most of the time. "But sometimes, all of a sudden, I'll just start laughing," he said yesterday. "This is the big time, the NFL, a dream come true."

Green's punt and kickoff returns also have been a dream come true for the Redskins. They have given Washington good field position and another offensive weapon.

Not bad for a 5-foot-9, sixth-round draft choice who didn't even run back punts his last two years in college.

Because he is relatively new at it, Green has had occasional trouble fielding punts and even muffed the one he picked up carried 80 yards for the touchdown.

"His practice habits weren't really very good and I was worried about that," said Hilton. "The big thing in returning punts is looking the ball into your hands and Tony has a tendency to take off before he really secures the ball. He just hasn't caught that many punts and he has to have that constant repetition."

Green says flatly, that "It's hard to catch a punt. Some float, some spin, some tail some fade; and you have to deal with the wind and the sun."

Just when Green thought he was getting everything down pat, the Redskins went to New England for the season-opener. He said he had never fielded a punt looking directly into the sun like he did there. Consequently, he dropped the first four he tried to catch during the warmups and started getting worried.

"In college, you can put your hands up to shield the sun, but if you do that here, it means you want a fair-catch," Green said. "I was having a toughtime."

Hilton quickly recognized the problem and showed Green how to turn his body to the side and when he catches the ball so he isn't looking directly into the sun.

Green also admits he has had some trouble getting to the blocking wall the Redskins set up on some returns.

"Sometimes you have to give ground to get to the wall and I'm just not use to giving ground," Green said. "I'm getting better at it, though. I also realize that I'm no better than the 10 guys in front of me who are blocking."

The only two men who can realse right way on a punt are the two outside men, so those are the two opponents that Green is most concerned with. If they can be controlled, he knows he has a chance for a big return.

The Redskins assigned to block the two outside men are Donnie Harris and Gerard Williams.

"They take care of me," Green said.

"I know I've done pretty well, so far," Green added, "but I cant't be satisfied with it. I have to keep working hard because you can still get cut in the middle of the season, though, and I've already seen that if you don't do the job, they will get somebody in there who will. I don't look at myself as being invaluable. I know I can't go into a slump or make a lot of mistakes."

Green has carried the ball only six times from scrimmage this season, gaining 23 yards, and has yet to catch a pass, but he and Coach Jack Pardee envision the day when Green will be another do-it-all, Terry Metcalf-type player.

"Tony has improved every day," Pardee said. "And you have to remember that he is just now getting the work he should have gotten in training camp. He missed three or four weeks with those injuries."

Green missed much of training camp with a hamstring muscle pull.

"I believe in using players who are producers," Pardee continued, "If you discover a guy, expose him. Tony is quick and he could be a Metcalf type. We're sure going to find out."

"No one else wanted to do all that Metcalf did, Green said. "I would like to. If I was really good, the more times I got my hands on the ball, the more times I could score, the more I could help the team. I wouldn't mine that."

Neither would Pardee

Jean Fugett, recovering from a knee injury, participated in the entire workout yesterday and may start at tight end Sunday against the cardinals . . . For the second straight day, the defensive backs and linebackershad some tackling practice after the regular workout . . . Now that Mencalf has gone to Canada, the Cardinals aren't an explosive team on offense that they once were, but Pardee said, "They're sound defensively. They don't give up the bombs like they used to."