Jeris White says nothing could entice him to be a receiver, not even for those high fives following touchdown catches. It's just not worth being exposed to the punishment from nasty defensive backs like himself.

"You hit them (receivers) and sometimes you don't have to hit them again because they will run the same pattern and they think, 'Am I going to get hit again?' " said White, the Redskins' veteran cornerback. Then he smiled.

White's game is hitting. So maybe it isn't surprising that in this, his first full year as a Washington starter, the Redskins' secondary has started treating receivers unkindly.

"We are making sure," Pro Bowl safety Tony Peters said, "that they know we are out there."

Not since the days of Pat Fischer and Kenny Houston has a Redskins secondary leveled so many opposing players. There is nothing cheap about their hits, either. Just aggressive, within-the-rules football, the kind Jeris White likes to play.

"It's contagious," said Richie Petitbon, the defensive coordinator. "Winning helps. They realize the reason they are winning is that they are working their butts off. They are starting to play with confidence.

"Sometimes people forget; to play football, you have to have tough people. If you don't, I don't care how much ability you have. And these guys are tough."

White says there are two ways to play defense: "You make the plays. Or you intimidate and make the plays. Hitting is what football is all about."

And hitting brings on intimidation.

"I don't really know if receivers are scared or not when you hit them," said rookie cornerback Vernon Dean, "but the next time they go over the middle, maybe they will look for you or try to tuck the ball a little quicker and drop it instead of catch it.

"The first priority is to make the tackle. Then if you can get a solid hit, you take it."

Safety Mark Murphy: "We have the most physical backs in the NFL."

The secondary's aggressiveness has developed along with a unitwide improvement. White and Dean, the new starters at cornerback, are naturally physical on the field. And both Murphy and Peters mix it much more noticeably this season. Combine that with a consistent pass rush that allows the backs to take chances more, and receivers suddenly are treading on dangerous turf.

"The pass rush is everything to what we are able to do," White said. "Once in a while, out of the corner of my eye, I get a chance to see a passer being buried as he lets the ball off. If he isn't hurried, he can be much more effective and it hurts us. But if he can't follow us as long as he wants, we can do a lot more things to hurt him."

After giving up only one touchdown pass the last 3 1/2 games, the secondary's new style should be tested thoroughly Saturday. Quarterback Tommy Kramer has averaged 36 passes a game the last seven weeks. Twice this season, he has thrown more than 40, including 56 against the New York Jets.

"They use the pass instead of the run, just going for two or three yard gains," White said. "That makes it difficult to stop them, or hit them."

This has been White's year of redemption. Since coming to Washington in a 1980 trade for Danny Buggs (and a No. 4 pick), White had frequently been overshadowed by Lemar Parrish, one of the game's premier covermen. In comparison, White appeared slower and, remarkably, less aggressive. He seemed passive, especially in man-to-man coverages.

But Parrish was traded in the offseason, creating a starting spot for White, who had become more accustomed playing in man-to-man schemes after years in predominantly zone defenses at Miami and Tampa Bay. And both White and Dean, who replaced Joe Lavender two games into the season, provided the Redskins with much-improved forcing against the run at cornerback.

"Jeris is playing the best I've ever seen him play," Petitbon said. "No question he is a very physical guy. I never thought he was deficient in other areas, like a lot of people did. The only complaint I've had is his hands aren't the best."

Still, White leads the Redskins with five interceptions, equalling the best output of his nine-year career. His most spectacular, of course, came last week, when he intercepted Eric Hipple and returned the ball 77 yards for a touchdown.

"Jeris is just starting to feel comfortable within our system," Murphy said. "You have to remember, this is the first season in which he's played the whole way. It's all his, to make it or not. I don't see how anyone can be unhappy with the way he's playing now."