Defensive end Dexter Manley has been accompanied during his four-year Redskins ride by headlines, sacks and giggling ghosts.

He has pushed his way to nearly every extreme. Attach a binder to his Washington press clippings and you have a comic book featuring a somewhat whimsical superhero.

There was, for example, the moment in the 1982 conference title game when he knocked Dallas quarterback Danny White unconscious, then deflected a pass by Gary Hogeboom into the intercepting arms of teammate Darryl Grant, who made a victory-assuring dash for a touchdown.

And then there was the time two weeks later when Manley howled to the world that he might become the Super Bowl MVP.

And the time in 1983 when he had his hair cut in the Mohawk style, answered to the name of "Mr. D" and said he wanted his contract renegotiated because, "They're paying me pennies and I want dollars." And the time later that season when a Houston paper quoted him as calling Dallas Coach Tom Landry something less than a flea, a statement that, to this day, he denies having made.

Then there was 1984, when he went silent after he had been offered as trade material in the offseason and then was threatened by the emergence of Charles Mann.

Now Manley is 26 and, as he prepares to begin his fifth professional season, stands on the firm ground of a self-professed maturity, saying, "We live and we learn.

"I wasn't able to hold back and I had a little diarrhea of the mouth like Muhammad Ali. I've always admired (Ali). The things he's done in the past I've tried to do myself," Manley said. "I'm just now realizing that this is a team sport, not an individual sport.

"As a player, I think I've gotten more wise, too. I used to worry about the tight end. I was thinking about the guy who chips (down-blocks) me. But if you want to become a great player, you have to ignore things like that.

"I don't think Mark Gastineau (the New York Jets' all-pro defensive end) worries about things like that. Neither does Randy White, Fred Dean or Lee Roy Selmon.

"Gastineau is in like his eighth or ninth year now and he came on strong in his fifth year. This is my fifth year so maybe this is my year."

This is not to imply that Manley -- who is 6 feet 3, weighs 250 pounds and is cat-quick -- hasn't produced already. He has accumulated 37 sacks in 56 games, although he says he's learned there is more to playing defensive end than sacking the quarterback.

Redskins coaches talk of Manley's improved dedication to the game and to the weight room. Team officials also believe his marriage last year and the birth of a son in February will help keep him settled and focused.

"His name is Dexter Keith Manley II. He's not 'Junior,' " Manley said of his son. "Just 'the 2nd.' Sounds classier that way."

Manley's goal was 20 or 21 sacks last season, but he finished with 13 1/2, the most on a team with a club-record 66 sacks and the fourth best in the conference.

However, those sacks also represented disappointment to Manley, who had 11 sacks the previous season and who longs to make the Pro Bowl. His tendency has been to play his best in streaks, for several series or several weeks. Coaches want more consistency.

An ankle injury kept Manley from playing in the Dallas game at RFK Stadium last season, but it did not keep him from pestering Coach Joe Gibbs on the sideline throughout the game ("I wanted to play") or from becoming so emotional that, after a Dallas touchdown, he slammed his helmet on a table where Gibbs' 11-year-old son Coy had neatly assembled cups of water and Gatorade.

"Injuries hurt me last year. I wasn't 100 percent until the Bears game," said Manley about the playoff loss that ended the Redskins' season.

"I prefer to keep my goals to myself this year. If I accomplish them, I'll tell you what they were."

Manley said he wants to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of his earlier years. In fact, he said he wants to clarify a few of his most chronicled big moments:

On the sack that knocked White cold: "Isn't that terrible that you have to knock someone out to get credit? Some people have a rude mentality."

On predicting he would be named Super Bowl XVII MVP, an award that went to fullback John Riggins (Manley did cause a fumble that led to a Redskins field goal): "It goes back to Muhammad Ali. I was healthy and ready to play. I must have felt good about myself and I made a statement. I played well. If Riggins didn't win it, who else? Maybe me. I do dream about it."

On being called Mr. D: "I never once proclaimed myself that. Tony McGee and George Starke gave me the name. I thought it was funny and I used it for what it was worth and it wasn't worth anything. It was comedy. But it wasn't Dexter. I learned from it."

On the reported bad-mouthing of Tom Landry: "I would never say that. I'm not a fool. An idiot would say something like that. Say Tom Landry is a so-and-so? And still play football? There's no way possible that I ever said that."

Five years later, what exactly is possible for Dexter Keith Manley I? "We have to determine good from great," he said. "Everybody in the NFL is good. But some people are great, like Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Anthony Munoz, Mark Gastineau, Riggo and Joe Theismann. I want to be great. I want to pay the price."

Team trainer Bubba Tyer said there has been "minimal swelling" in cornerback Darrell Green's sprained right ankle and that "it will be up to Darrell whether he plays Sunday, but we'll list him as probable." The Redskins will play the Raiders in an exhibition game Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Kicking Update: Both Mark Moseley and Tony Zendejas converted eight of 12 field goal attempts today, according to special teams coach Wayne Sevier.