The Pro Bowl almost surely awaits Barry Wilburn, unless Dan Marino gets him first.

So far, Wilburn -- a Washington Redskins cornerback -- has intercepted seven passes, more than any other NFL defender. Once Darrell Green's weak sister, Wilburn is fast becoming Green's better half. Once teams treated Wilburn like a target, now they don't take aim so much.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs says the new trend among Redskins opponents is to test Green and Wilburn both, a relative rarity last season when Green was a Pro Bowler and Wilburn was a part-timer.

"We saw some games for the first time this year -- like Atlanta -- where they almost turned around and said, 'We're gonna try Darrell Green some,' " Gibbs said. "Which is a good feeling. I think it's good for everybody on defense."

While Green is perhaps the league's fastest human, Wilburn says he runs mostly out of fear.

"I think I have the type of speed that if I ran just by myself, I'd run a 4.4 or 4.5 {second 40-yard dash}," Wilburn said yesterday. "But then you've got 'scared' speed, as in scared to death of the receiver. I'll run as fast as he'll run if he's a burner. I don't care how fast he is; that's how fast I'll run. If you timed me with a bullet at my back, I'd run pretty darn fast."

Miami's Marino has been known to throw a bullet or two, so Sunday night's game at Joe Robbie Stadium will show how far Wilburn has come. The Redskins tend to leave their cornerbacks one on one with opposing receivers, which is practically playing into Marino's right hand.

Said Wilburn: "It definitely won't be boring. I'll be scared, so I won't worry about my speed. I'll be ready to run. Sunday, it'll be a track meet."

A year ago, Wilburn (6 feet 4, 200 pounds) fell from starter to nickel back to dime back because he couldn't seem to make a play. He'd run stride for stride with a receiver and yet forget about the ball. Receivers would catch it when Wilburn wasn't looking.

"I mean, the hardest part is covering the guy, and I was doing that," Wilburn said. "If a guy has 9.3 speed {in the 100-yard dash} and gives you 10 moves, and you can stay with him, that's the hard part. I was doing the hard part, but I wasn't finishing the play."

Gibbs looks back and says Wilburn made him "nervous" last season. He said Wilburn was "an extremely talented guy who was strong and could tackle, but was just missing plays."

His problem again was fear, except it was a fear of getting beaten. Assistant coach Emmitt Thomas, a former all-pro cornerback with Kansas City, saw that Wilburn was playing a little tentatively instead of going after the football. Thomas just wanted Wilburn to slap it away.

Wilburn took his advice and became less dainty. The Redskins drafted cornerback Brian Davis with their top pick, but Wilburn beat Davis out, as well as Tim Morrison and Vernon Dean.

Wilburn says he owes a lot to Thomas, who, by the way, had a little part in Redskins history before becoming a coach here two seasons ago. Back in 1971, Thomas broke receiver Charley Taylor's leg as Taylor raced for the end zone with a pass from Billy Kilmer. Now, Thomas and Taylor are inseparable, working with young Redskins.

Said Wilburn: "This was the second time in my three years here that the Redskins had drafted a cornerback with their first pick {Besides Davis, the Redskins selected San Diego State's Tory Nixon in 1985}. So I knew I'd have to fight. Even next year I'll have to fight."

Wilburn -- who's playing with a broken index finger -- said he enjoyed getting picked on in the past because, "I knew if I got myself together and they kept coming my way, I'd make a name for myself."

He easily could have one more interception this season -- if a referee had been more generous in Philadelphia. On a deep pass, he appeared to have inside position on Eagles receiver Kenny Jackson and appeared to intercept the ball. But, on the ground, Jackson wrestled it away, and a referee called it a completion.

Wilburn felt robbed that time, which is why he argued so vehemently Sunday when officials appeared to take another one away against the Dallas Cowboys. On the play, Wilburn leaped high and appeared to intercept the ball, but it came loose for an instant when he hit the ground. The field official called it incomplete, but the instant replay official, Chuck Heberling, overruled and called it Redskins' ball.

Off the field, Wilburn is quite subdued, almost scholarly. He said he was one of only two people at his Memphis high school to make the National Honor Society. He said his high school grade-point average was 3.8, and he intends to complete his college degree in business management this summer at an area school.

"One semester to go," he said.

Speaking of school, quarterbacks everywhere are testing Green, who has been victimized for several touchdowns this season. Wilburn's view is that Green is doing nothing different and that "Hall of Famers get scored on; no one's safe."

Really, the best analysis is that Green is getting more opportunities to give up touchdowns this year, which is Wilburn's fault in a way. Quarterbacks are beginning to fear Wilburn as much as Wilburn fears them, so they're looking for alternatives -- such as Green.

Redskins Notes:

Trainer Bubba Tyer said there are no serious injuries to report. Linebacker Monte Coleman (bruised ribs) is expected to practice today, as is tackle Mark May (mild concussion), cornerback Darrell Green (strained neck) and running backs Kelvin Bryant (sore ankle), Keith Griffin (thigh strain) and George Rogers (sore neck). Tyer said knee injuries to center/guard Russ Grimm and wide receiver Art Monk are "coming along." Grimm is expected to practice this week, and Tyer said "if we needed him desperately, I'm sure he could play." Monk continued to wear a knee brace and will be re-evaluated Thursday.