Yesterday in the five-minute meeting Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has with his team, he chose to discuss one of his favorite players. The player doesn't start. He rarely plays unless someone is injured. He is short, even by everyday standards. He is quiet. He isn't close to stardom.

But Gibbs loves Keith Griffin. He doesn't say it, but you can tell. Whenever the coach wants to show how he wishes all his players would be, he picks his reserve running back and tells everyone about him.

"Here is a guy who doesn't get the publicity that other people get," Gibbs said to his players. "Last week, he ran a kickoff back, he made a tackle on kickoff coverage, he scored a touchdown when Kelvin {Bryant} was injured. He's a real team player. When you talk about us going someplace, as a team, he is one of the guys you count on. He could be complaining about his role, wanting to run the ball more. He could be upset about things. That's never the case with Keith. He's always ready to jump in and perform. When you talk about people you count on, he's one of the guys."

On this Redskins team, Griffin gets more air time in meetings than playing time in games. Clearly, Gibbs doesn't play favorites. Witness the life and times of Griffin, a 10th-round draft choice in 1984 out of Miami. He is one of Gibbs' favorites, but he rarely plays -- unless the Redskins are in a bind.

And that's where they are for this Sunday's game in St. Louis. Griffin will play more than usual because passing-down back Kelvin Bryant is out due to ankle and hamstring injuries. In long-yardage situations Sunday, Griffin will be on the field.

Griffin played at the end last week when the Redskins beat the New York Giants, 23-19. He was forced into duty late and responded with his first touchdown in two seasons, a six-yard catch and hurdle into the end zone to bring the Redskins within three, 19-16, with 10:27 left in the game.

Griffin beamed as he discussed the catch after the game. He has scored only four touchdowns in his pro career, the three others coming in 1985. What a rare thing this was for him.

"I see the goal line, I'm going up," Griffin said. "I didn't want to take a chance on slipping and falling down."

And not scoring. The opportunities are so rare, Griffin knows he must take advantage of each one, even if he is a step or two from the end zone and Giants free safety Terry Kinard is standing there, waiting to ruin his day.

"I certainly would like to be playing more, but I'm not sick of my role here," Griffin said. "If I'm steady, I'm good. That's the role I'm in. They know they can call on me at any time."

When a coach praises a man for being a team player, for accepting his fate without a grumble, much less a shrug, it's not usually a compliment a player wants. Griffin has been in the shadows for so long, one might expect him to accept it. First, he was Archie's and Ray's younger brother, then a little-known running back in the collegiate passing attack of Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar. Then, he comes here and backs up nearly everyone -- John Riggins, Joe Washington, George Rogers, Bryant, you name it.

Yet he still isn't ready to be a backup all his life, and Gibbs knows it.

"I probably embarrass him every now and then because I talk about that," Gibbs said. "He can do all those things for us, which is why we like him. I could see him sometime coming to me in the offseason and saying he wants to be traded. It's a tough situation in a way because he's got a role we think is real important, but to him, it might be disappointing."

Griffin, a co-assistant player representative for the Redskins, will say nothing of his plans. Last summer, he held out of training camp for a week before agreeing to a one-year deal that is believed to be worth $160,000.

"I thought I was worth a certain amount, and that's why I did it," he said. "People might think, 'He's quiet, he doesn't make any waves. Why is he doing this?' Sometimes in your life, you have to stand up for things you believe in, and I did then."

He wouldn't rule out a move, although his value might be limited elsewhere. At 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, he is one of those tough little running backs who become labeled as "overachievers." As a kickoff returner, he is solid but unspectacular, averaging 19.2 yards on 22 returns.

In his four seasons with the Redskins, Griffin has gained 2,628 yards running, catching and returning kickoffs. Archie, the two-time Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, accounted for 4,869 yards doing the same things in his seven seasons with Cincinnati, 1976-82. Keith might have trouble catching his older brother statistically, but may stick around the NFL longer, especially if he stays with the Redskins.

"This way, I don't get beat up as much," Keith Griffin said, smiling. "But don't get me wrong. I'd rather play more. To me, it's just a joy to be out there."

Redskins Notes:

Neal Olkewicz will start at middle linebacker Sunday, defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello said. "We have two good guys there, and we figured Neal deserved a chance to start," Peccatiello said. Rich Milot still is bothered slightly by an injured right knee, but is expected to play.