Darrell Green, the Washington Redskins' starting left cornerback, their flashy part-time punt returner and the "NFL's Fastest Man," today acquired another title: wide receiver.
Coach Joe Gibbs, concerned about the team's depth at receiver, said Green will join in some receiving drills with the offense and catch passes on his own after practice to be ready for an "emergency" situation. The change also will give the Redskins "more flexibility" on their 45-player roster, Gibbs said. Not wasting any time, Green began catching passes this morning.
Green, a three-year veteran who was a Pro Bowl starter in 1984, will keep his job at cornerback, both he and Gibbs said.
"Right now, I think it's in a testing stage," Green said, "and I think it's exciting. I'm going to go out and try to really make it something. I have the ability. We'll see what happens."
There are several reasons this move was made now, still early in training camp but several years after the first questions about such a change -- to take advantage of Green's speed -- were posed to the coaches.
It's a clear signal of the coaches' feelings about two positions. Gibbs said the Redskins are very satisfied with their other cornerbacks: starter Vernon Dean and second-year backups Barry Wilburn and Kevin Williams. But they are concerned about their reserve wide receivers, especially with the lengthy holdout of second-round draft choice Walter Murray, whose ability and attitude have been questioned by some in the organization.
"In the past, we felt really restricted because of our depth in the secondary," Gibbs said. "We've gone for about the last five years redoing the entire secondary. Now we've got some guys there who give us greater flexibility.
"We've also grown thinner at receiver right now. If you carry four as the club did last season , you're always kind of sweating a little bit in a game."
Previously, when asked about moving Green to offense or first-team punt returner, Gibbs said he did not want to risk an injury to his 5-foot-8, 170-pound cornerback by playing him at such vulnerable positions. Now, the risks are apparently worth it, at least at receiver.
Last year, in the final 2 1/2 games of the season, Green replaced injured return man Ken Jenkins and had two long touchdown returns, albeit nullified by penalties. He also came in for one play at wingback on offense in the last game, gaining six yards on a reverse. These are things Gibbs can't forget.
"The guy's a playmaker," Gibbs said. "Everybody realizes what kind of talent Darrell's got."
It also didn't hurt that Green won the first "NFL's Fastest Man" competition in Palm Desert, Calif., in April. Fighting off a 24-hour virus, as well as the popular belief that the fastest defensive back couldn't beat the fastest wide receiver, Green won $20,000 by defeating receivers Phillip Epps, Ron Brown (an Olympic gold medalist) and Willie Gault (an international sprinting champion) in consecutive 60-yard dashes.
"I know that it's evident that I am the fastest guy in the league," Green said. "It's been noted over the history of football that the faster guys are on offense. I know I'm the fastest guy and yet I'm on defense. This is not to say I want to go over to offense and drop defense. I've played defense all my football career. I've enjoyed it and I'm going to continue to get better and better with that.
"At the same time, if I can help us win games on offense, I'm not going to turn away from that, either."
Perhaps it's purely a coincidence, but the tape of the NFL competition was shown Sunday afternoon on national television.
"You figure Coach Gibbs saw that race, huh?" Green said, smiling.
Speed is only part of his new job. There's the rather significant matter of catching the ball, too.
"I don't think that will be a problem," Green said, referring to his punt returning experience. "But punts are different. Hey, if I can just be half as good at receiver as far as my hands are concerned as Art Monk or Gary Clark, we can win with that."
Green doesn't foresee a problem learning pass routes. "We have to know pattern numbers as defensive backs," he said.
His teammates and coaches don't anticipate any troubles either.
"If it can get us a quick score, I'm for it," Dean said.
Emmitt Thomas, an assistant coach with the receivers and a Pro Bowl defensive back himself in Kansas City, helped turn defensive back Roy Green into a star wide receiver in St. Louis.
"Darrell is a couple steps faster than Roy," Thomas said. "We're very pleased to get that kind of speed and talent on offense."
Another change possibly is developing at quarterback. For the first time this season, Gibbs did not strongly single out Babe Laufenberg as his No. 2, leaving open the possibility that rookie Mark Rypien, extremely impressive so far, could become the backup to Jay Schroeder.
"We've got two young guys there, and we're just going to let them play it out and let them decide it on the field," Gibbs said.
"Babe's been working No. 2 and will probably continue to work No. 2, but I think you're continually evaluating everybody to see where they fit in. There's no question about Jay starting, but I think with the other two guys, it's a lot closer there as far as what we're going to do."
Laufenberg, who suffered a partial tear of the tendon in his right elbow in a scrimmage July 26, returned to practice today, but still was not 100 percent, he said.
In the continuing kicking competition, free agent Jim Asmus apparently has gone ahead of rivals Jess Atkinson and Steve Willis in a two-day battle for one roster spot.
The trio started out even today, but Asmus made six of nine field goals, Atkinson and Willis five of nine. Atkinson, an experienced pro from the University of Maryland, did better than the others on shorter field goals, which are rated more important by special teams coach Wayne Sevier.
In kickoffs, Sevier gave "the edge" to USFL veteran Asmus.
After Tuesday's kicking, the Redskins will release two players, Sevier said. The third will compete with Mark Moseley and Steve Cox.
The Redskins cut six free agent rookies today, including running back Wesley Williams, the most valuable player in this past spring's Italian Football League Super Bowl. Others released were: safety Gordon Bunch, linebacker David Naimaister, cornerback Ted Ray, tight end Marty Scott and wide receiver Robert Williams.
Offensive tackle Troy Thomas and running back Kenny Fells, the 11th-round draft pick, were put on injured reserve after knee surgery.
Gibbs announced he is going to close at least one training camp practice a week to the media. "We just want to work on game plans and things like that," he said.
His reason? "Past history. . . . As soon as it happens, it's written about."