Wilber Marshall says that now, 2 1/2 years and 44 games after the fact, he should have known what to expect when he signed a five-year, $6 million contract with the Washington Redskins.

He should have known he'd become "The $6 Million Man" to dozens of headline writers, and that he'd suddenly be faced with expectations he couldn't possibly reach.

He was the NFL's first prominent free-agent move -- and a Pro Bowl linebacker coming to the defending Super Bowl champions. He'd been a reckless, daring player in Chicago, and when he arrived in Washington, there was no limit on what would be expected of him.

Marshall agreed with those expectations.

"At the beginning, I thought I was going to come in here and really roll," he said. "But the first thing the Redskins told me was that I wasn't going to do the same things I'd been doing in Chicago. They had me to fill a hole behind Dexter Manley. He was a great pass-rusher, but wasn't playing the run particularly well. They wanted me to make tackles and not just go out and make plays when I wanted to. They blitz me every blue moon and I have to make tackles and great hits, or people won't notice."

And for 2 1/2 years, that has been his job for the Redskins, to cover tight ends on pass routes, blitz occasionally and chase down ball carriers.

What he hasn't done is play the same way he played for four seasons in Chicago, where Buddy Ryan's three-man front turned outside linebackers into defensive ends. That meant Marshall spent half his afternoons knocking quarterbacks down, and in the process, getting a reputation as one of the meanest and fiercest players in pro football.

That ended when he joined the Redskins. He plays in a more controlled and disciplined system, and for the longest time, a lot of people thought Wilber Marshall suddenly had become less of a player.

But that doesn't mean he has been any less of a player, and Marshall, for one, believes this season might be his best. He's on a pace for a third straight 100-tackle season and could have his best sack year ever. He has four after 12 games and has never had more than six -- with the Bears in 1985.

"I really think this might be my best {year}," he said. "I feel more comfortable and know what they expect of me. I thought my first year here was a good one, three interceptions and four sacks. I thought that was one of my best years even counting the ones in Chicago. I had my knee scoped after the season. That slowed me down, and I carried a little extra weight last season. Now, I feel like I'm back where I need to be."

He admitted this week, as the Redskins prepare to play his former team at RFK Stadium on Sunday, that going to a Pro Bowl for the Redskins is a burning goal. He went to two Pro Bowls for the Bears.

He also said he might not get there. Despite numbers -- 85 tackles and four sacks -- that say he probably belongs, Marshall knows that linebackers these days are measured differently. They're measured by sacks and the top linebackers in that category are Kevin Greene of the Rams, Pat Swilling of the Saints and Tim Harris of the Packers.

Greene, Swilling and Harris play linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which amounts to being a standup defensive end. Lawrence Taylor also is a lock, even though he had three sacks in Week 1 and 1 1/2 in the 11 weeks since.

Marshall's never-ending gripe is that what Taylor does isn't what Marshall does.

"You'd like to see a great player like Lawrence Taylor get into this system and see if he'd have comparable numbers," Marshall said. "You don't know. You're comparing two different things. Let's see how people would react to it. They might be saying he was finished, too.

"That's what people have been doing with me. They're reacting to the number of sacks or the big plays on the quarterback they see. If I can't rush, I can't get the sacks. I think when I do get the opportunity, I do make them. You see some of these guys they call linebackers, they're defensive ends. They just call them linebackers. They can't cover anyone. They do drop into zones, but that's not covering someone on a pass route. You don't see the number of big hits."

Would he change the system if he could?

"For myself, yes," he said. "Selfishly, I'd like to blitz more. Anyone would want to get a piece of the action. But I have to overcome some of the things I really want to do and concentrate on my job. When I do get the opportunity, I have to make the most of it."

He said a third Pro Bowl is important because "it would mean having done it on two different teams and two different systems. That'd be a real honor and something not too many other players have done. That's a personal goal I set for myself when I got here.

"The Pro Bowl is so tough because you're dealing with other players voting on you, and you're making all this money, so they're looking for something spectacular. Not what you've been doing, but what they think you ought to be doing for the money. They want you to get 15 sacks and be out there all the time. That was a guy playing a different kind of game but no one wants to hear that."

His coaches say people ought to hear it. They say that Marshall has proven he can be a contributor in a totally new system. He has gotten 85 tackles despite coming out on most passing downs and he has fit into a defense where 19 players are shuttled into various spots on the field depending on the situation.

"I don't think Wilber ever had trouble fitting into our system," Redskins linebacker coach Larry Peccatiello said. "When you pay people a lot of money, they're expected to do something superhuman. What they forget is they're still one of 11 players. They're going to make their plays, but they still have to fit what the team is trying to accomplish. People expected more than was possible, not just from Wilber, but from anybody. I think he's one of the best in the league. He's playing very well, and I'd like to see him considered for Pro Bowl honors. He deserves that."

Redskins Notes: Russ Grimm (shoulder) missed another day of practice and it appears likely he won't play Sunday. H-back Jimmie Johnson missed part of practice with a pinched nerve in his neck, but probably will play Sunday. . . .

Strength coach Dan Riley arrived at practice wearing a shirt with the words "YES MAN" taped on the back -- a reference to Joe Theismann's comments about the Redskins' coaching staff.