A day after last April's draft, the Redskins brought a bunch of free-agent rookies to Redskin Park. One of the prospects was a big, shy offensive tackle from Louisville named Joe Jacoby.

"Everything was really hectic, it was like a fire drill and they brought this big guy into my office," Coach Joe Gibbs recalled yesterday, "and I must have spent 20 minutes telling him about the great chance he had to make the team as a defensive tackle. He never said a word to me, never corrected me."

When Gibbs found out later in the day that Jacoby was an offensive tackle, he became angry.

"We already had so many offensive line prospects. I walked out my office and yelled for (line coach) Joe Bugel. I said, 'For cripes sake, Joe, why do we need another lineman? You've got 18 of them already. We can't coach that many. If we've signed him, can we get out of it?' "

The Redskins had indeed signed Jacoby, and Gibbs was told they couldn't back out of the contract. And now Gibbs is delighted they didn't.

"Jacoby is one of the best things that has happened to us this year," Gibbs said. "Shows you what I know about a prospect."

Jacoby is one of those rare pro football success stories that public relations people dream about and for which scouts spend their careers searching.

He has changed from a little-known, lightly regarded 6-foot-7, 300-pound free agent who was sought by only two NFL teams to a starting tackle on the league's youngest offensive line. And to become a starter, he had to beat out a No. 1 draft choice who was a consensus all-America and Outland Trophy winner in college.

"I didn't win anything in college," said Jacoby, who was discovered by Redskin scout Charlie Casserly. "I was second-team all-South, whatever that is. I didn't go to a bowl game or an all-star game. I sat home for Christmas. But I told myself that being home gave me more time to work harder. I figured things would have to work out."

But he never figured they'd work out quite this way. After being rated as a "reject" by the scouting combines, he thought he had a chance to survive the final roster cut as the third tackle. And then, maybe in two or three years, he might earn a starting position.

"I wanted to be realistic," he said.

Instead, he already has started at left guard, right tackle and now, for the last two games, at left tackle, perhaps the most difficult of all offensive line positions.

And every time he starts, he continues to surprise his coaches, who say Jacoby is no one-year flash who will fade away in coming seasons when more gifted players are signed. For evidence, they point to the job he did last week on Detroit's Bubba Baker, a two-time all-pro defensive end.

"Baker had no sacks, he didn't come close and after awhile, he played like a mannequin out there," Bugel said. "I'll stake my reputation on the fact that Jacoby is legitimate. I've worked with some good ones, like Leon Gray, so I think I know talent. Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm are our two best linemen right now. We are set on the left side for years. We can worry about other positions, because those two are taken care of."

Whether Bugel is correct will be determined only by time. But even he has difficulty explaining how Jacoby could be this good now, and still be overlooked a year ago by almost every scout in the league.

"It happens," he said. "My opinion is that Joe just started to mature when his senior year ended. On the films, he didn't have to pass block much and he'd get his footwork messed up on running plays. There wasn't much to see.

"But here is a guy who never lifted, but got on the weights right after the draft and built himself up. He was only 270 or so in college and very weak in his upper body. Now he weighs 290 and it's all new muscle. And he's strong. I mean, you can bring a lot of guys his size into camp and most of them are busts. But once in a while you hit it. We hit it."

Jacoby hasn't stopped growing, either. Bugel hopes six months of off-season weightlifting will increase his weight to 305 pounds and his bench press from 405 to 450.

"We're hoping he becomes a mountain," Bugel said. "He's got everything in front of him. He's a good learner, he works hard on his techniques, he really gets upset when he does poorly. He's got nothing but better from the first minicamp, when he had a hard time with the blocking sleds."

Jacoby admits he is a "bit astonished" by what has happened to him. "I'm going to have to sit down after the season and think about it and let it soak in. But right now, I try not to think about anything but what I'm doing out there. I'm not used to the publicity, things like that. It's all so new.

"I always thought I had the ability," said Jacoby, whose mother died during training camp, making those August days even more difficult. "It was just a matter of applying myself and showing them what I could do."

And what about his first meeting with Gibbs?

"I knew he was busy and when he kept calling me a defensive lineman, I decided not to tell him anything," Jacoby said. "I figured he'd find out soon enough where I played."

Ray Waddy, who has been practicing for only a month after severely fracturing his left leg last season, apparently broke the same leg again in practice yesterday. Waddy was kicked in the leg while leaping for a pass and had to be helped off the field. The Redskins will get results of X-rays today.