The last time Bob Raba was this close to a Redskin uniform, he had his jaw broken.

Yet he still has his chin stuck out, trying to prove to the Washington coaches there is a place in pro football for a smallish tight end who loves the game enough to smile about his experiences playing on special teams.

Raba has to have an uncommon fondness for the sport. Otherwise, he would have become discouraged long ago about his future in the NFL.

He has been cut by two teams and thwarted in his attempts to sign with another. The Redskins turned down his request for a tryout last year. To even get into pro football four years ago, he had to attend a Jet rookie camp as an unsigned free agent.

At Maryland, where he played on four straight bowl teams, he caught only 15 passes. The only pro questionnaires were given to him by his more highly regarded teammates.

He knows he'll never be a star. He'd love to be a full-time tight end, but if he does make the Redskin roster, he realized it probably will be because of his special-team talents, not his pass-catching ability.

"I'm still convinced I can play," he said. "I really enjoy it. I like the hitting. I even enjoy the simple matter of going out and throwing the ball. It builds from there.

"I've thought about not playing. I've wavered.But while it's still fun, I'd like to continue. If it doesn't work out, maybe I'd try out somewhere else and maybe I wouldn't. That would be something I'd have to decide. But I'm certainly not discouraged by what's happened so far in my career."

The vast majority of that career was spent with the Jets, who employed the chunky Raba (6 feet 1,225 pounds) mainly on special teams. In his three years with New York, he caught two passes and received a similar number of major injuries.

The worst was the broken jaw, which happened against the Redskins during a 1978 game at RFK Stadium.

Raba was caught between blockers while covering a punt and his jaw absorbed most of the blow. But he didn't realize he was hurt, so he got up and tried to make the tackle -- and got clipped.

He finished the first half before the team doctor insisted on taking an X-ray. Before the result was known, however, the teams were ready to take the field for the second half. Raba found himself outside the X-ray room, which is near the visiting team's dressing area, and ended up running onto the field along with the entire Washington team.

"It was my most embarrassing moment in football," he said. "Here I was, in a Jet uniform, right in the middle of all those Redskins. I had to run across the middle of the field, right where everyone could see me.

"I wanted to continue to play but they wouldn't let me until they saw the X-ray. The doctor came out of the same dugout and signaled me in from there, so I had to run all the way around the field again. Some of the fans really gave me a hard time."

Raba missed 12 games that season, then another eight in 1979 after spraining his knee. The Jets finally cut him during their 1980 camp and he was picked up by Baltimore. He lasted three games with the Colts before being released again.

San Francisco worked him out later but never offered him a contract. He called Washington, but got no encouragement. So he drove out to Redskin Park to see General Manager Bobby Beathard, who was out of town. He wound up talking to Beathard on the phone and was told, in essence, thanks but no thanks.

"I worked a little in the offseason and then I decided I wanted to try it again," Raba said. "The Redskins had a new staff and (assistant coach) Dan Henning knew me when he was with the Jets. I called and asked for a tryout and got one."

The Redskins, looking for additional tight ends, signed him. He soon became a frequent visitor to Redskin Park, working out with veights and running patterns for the quarterbacks. His persistence was noticed by Coach Joe Gibbs, who said Raba was the one of the tight ends he especially wanted to watch in camp.

Gibbs also said he might keep three tight ends instead of the usual two. If that happens, the Redskins will have to choose among Raba, Phil DuBois and rookie Clint Didier, who has had leg problems, for the third spot behind holdovers Don Warren and Rick Walker.

"I try not to think about my situation or my chances," Raba said. "I know that's easy to say and hard to do, but I think I'm pretty successful at it. At least I feel they are giving me a legitimate chance here. Other places, I've felt there is no hope at all and that makes it hard to go out every day.

"Why am I going through this? Well, I always felt that if I hadn't tried to make it in pro football, I would have regretted it later. That still holds. If I hadn't tried to come back this year, I might have regretted it, too. At least for now, I'm doing what I really like. That hasn't changed, either."

Guard Gary Sayre, an impressive fifth-round draft choice out of Cameron State, did not show up for today's afternoon practice. Gibbs said he didn't know why Sayre was absent. "He attended all the meetings today and then just wasn't here," Gibbs said. "We're trying to find him to see what's wrong". . . Mark May and Fred Cook were pushing and shoving again today, this time during a scrimmage. "The main thing," said Gibbs, "is that they leave it on the field and not continue it". . . The Redskins made their first two cuts, releasing running back Chuck Hunter and tight end Ronald Mitchell.