The football education continues for Washington Redskins rookie cornerback Darrell Green.
"Playing against some receiver who is supposedly one of the best in the league, knowing you are going against him all alone, you have to have confidence," Green said yesterday. "You learn to get tough. You learn to believe you can get the job done. I believe I can play in the NFL."
As he spoke, Green sat by his Redskin Park locker, taking tiny bites out of a large hamburger. John Riggins and Joe Theismann walked by. Other teammates came over and kidded Green, the Redskins' top draft choice from Texas A & I. He is 22 years old, blessed with speed and cursed (by locker room needling standards) with a baby face. Players are always kidding Darrell Green.
And Green keeps on laughing, saying, "Being a rookie is a hard life." Straightening his back and his prerogatives, Green adds, "Everybody develops an identity in this league. My identity now is for catching people.
"Catching Tony Dorsett from behind, that's what people know me for now." In the Redskins' 31-30 loss to Dallas, Green sprinted across the field and passed two teammates to catch Dorsett. Green tackled Dorsett on the Washington six, after a 77-yard gain. Dallas settled for a field goal.
"I would have caught Dorsett by the river and hoped that he didn't know how to swim," cracked free safety Mark Murphy, one of the players Green ran by. "That's the only way I would have caught him."
Green is 5 feet 8, 170 pounds. The left cornerback spot that belonged to holdout Jeris White last year is now his. Green has speed and gumption, two prerequisites for pro football's loneliest position.
"Over time, Darrell has gotten a better feel for what goes on in this league," is the way Richie Petitbon, coach of the Redskins' defense, puts it. "You know he didn't get a chance to see too many James Loftons down at Texas A & I."
Green may be the most talented player in the Redskins' secondary. Since the arrest of Pro Bowler Tony Peters, Petitbon has stewed over the inconsistency at strong safety. Right cornerback Vernon Dean, bothered by nagging injuries, has been beaten enough to make his confidence, seemingly unshakable in his rookie season in 1982, waver. And while Murphy provides the smarts and the shrewdness for the secondary, he does not possess the speed to cover up mistakes.
Green is a rookie. He has been beaten on pass plays. Yet, in each week of this season, he has gotten a little smarter, a lot better.
He does not want speed to be his legend. "I want to be known for being a blanket-coverage man. That's a saying we had in college, 'blanket coverage.' In other words, you're a great cover man," said Green.
Green signed a five-year contract valued near $1 million, including a $330,000 signing bonus. He runs 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, fastest on the team. Dean calls Green "10-Speed." Says Dean, "That's because he's always shifting gears."
"Sometimes, I think maybe I respect my own speed too much," said Green. "Sometimes, I disrespect the receiver's speed. I play faster receivers better because I'm fast. I have problems adjusting to slower receivers. That's what happened in Seattle with (wide receiver Steve) Largent. He's a great receiver." Largent caught eight passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns against the Redskins.
"After last week's game against Detroit, I got that written on my game analysis sheet: I was covering the receivers so close that when they faked or broke, I was a little too far off," said Green. "It was the first time it was written down, but I knew I was doing it all along."
The education of the football world about Green continues, too. "Darrell Green is as quick as any rookie corner I've seen," said Green Bay quarterback Lynn Dickey. "For a rookie, he plays so aggressive. I remember on one play right in front of our bench, James Lofton put a good move on Green, then turned to the sideline. It was an out pattern. I thought he'd turn Green around and make him go deep. James is great on making corners do that. But Green was right there and made the play."
"That's where my speed comes in," said Green.
Above all, the self-confidence continues to grow within Green. In every cornerback's list of necessities, confidence ranks above speed and aggressiveness.
Stroking his fuzzy cheek, Green said, "Yeah, I feel young. I don't have to be around Joe Theismann or George Starke to feel young. I feel honored to be around here. I'm learning every day. My speed? That will be with me for another 25 years."
Green smiled at the thought. Then, he laughed hard. To further his education, Green ran off to a defensive team meeting. He ran fast, too.
The Redskins activated tight end Michael Williams yesterday from the physically unable to perform list. To make space on the roster, tight end John Sawyer was released.
"Mike worked hard. He's ready," Coach Joe Gibbs said. Williams suffered a knee injury last season and the recuperation process was lengthy. "We don't have any doubts about it," Gibbs said.