As a member of his high school track and field team, Casey Rabach wasn't satisfied with merely participating in the shot put. So despite his bulky physique, Rabach became a sprinter in a race for oversized athletes -- mainly football players -- called the weight man's relay.

"We called it the fat man's relay to tell you the truth," Rabach explained with a hearty laugh at Redskins Park yesterday. "It was something fun we did at the conference meet. You had two guys at either end of the 50-yard line. It was 100-yard sprints back and forth. It was more comical than anything, but it was a good time."

Growing up in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Rabach wasn't satisfied with playing one sport. Rabach, who possessed speed and agility that belied his size, put his physical gifts to full use: As a kid, he took up swimming, tennis and baseball among other sports. At Sturgeon Bay High, Rabach was also on the varsity basketball, wrestling and football teams.

"I tried to do everything," Rabach said. "I hated sitting around at home watching television. I probably played every sport there is to play growing up and through high school."

Now an NFL player, the 6-foot-4, 301-pound center is putting his athletic ability -- and versatility -- to use for the Washington Redskins.

"He's good in space," said right guard Randy Thomas. "A lot of centers are tight in the hips. He's pretty loose in the knees and the hips. He's got good bend."

Rabach's quickness will help him block for tailbacks trying to get around the corner, and on screens that are an integral part of Coach Joe Gibbs's offense. Rabach's speed also allows him to dart several yards from the line of scrimmage for blocks against linebackers.

Joe Bugel, the de facto offensive line coach, added: "He's a good puller. He can run real fast for a big guy. He has super quickness inside, but he's very powerful."

Rabach, who played his first four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, doesn't just rely on his physical gifts. He is known for a combination of savvy and sound technique. Rabach is adept at making line calls and adjustments to help the quarterback. The agricultural journalism major hasn't had one botched snap in offseason practices this season. "He's a sharp guy," said quarterback Patrick Ramsey. "He works really hard, and he's vocal. That helps everybody be on the same page."

Today at noon, the Redskins participate in a scrimmage against Rabach's old teammates at M&T Bank Stadium.

"There are a couple of restaurants I'll visit, but I'll just say hey to the guys and come home and see my wife and baby," said Rabach, who has a 6-month-old girl, Alana Nicole, with wife Nicole.

Owner Daniel Snyder's Redskins underwent an uncharacteristically quiet offseason in terms of headline-grabbing moves to acquire free agents. Rabach was the first player Washington signed when free agency opened March 3. The Redskins provided a stretch limousine that took Rabach from Baltimore to Redskins Park in the early-morning hours. By 2 a.m., Rabach signed a six-year, $18.5 million deal as Washington's starting center. "He was the package we were looking for," said Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato, "as a person and a player."

Rabach, the best available center in free agency, was almost an afterthought when Washington lost linebacker Antonio Pierce to the division rival New York Giants.

Nonetheless, Rabach appears to be a significant acquisition for a team with uneven play along the offensive line and in its running game. With Rabach, plus the return of right tackle Jon Jansen (ruptured Achilles' tendon), the Redskins envision an improved line for tailback Clinton Portis.

"Casey's going to be a big addition to this team," Portis said. "If you're a better athlete [at center], that helps. Not to say anything was wrong with [last season's starter Cory] Raymer."

Last year, Lennie Friedman was the starting center for the season opener. Friedman lasted only two games because of botched snap exchanges with quarterback Mark Brunell. With Raymer starting the final 14 games, Washington's quarterbacks absorbed too much pressure up the middle.

The Ravens selected Rabach, 27, in the third round of the 2001 draft after he displayed versatility and sturdiness at Wisconsin. He was named all-Big Ten first team at center in 1999 and at guard in 2000.

"There's a saying in the league: 'The more you can do, the longer you'll be around,' " Rabach said.

During his Baltimore stint, Rabach played both guard spots. Last season, Rabach started every game (one at guard) after Mike Flynn broke his collarbone in camp. Rabach kept the job after Flynn regained his health and helped Baltimore amass more than 2,000 rushing yards.

Although Rabach has natural physical assets, he does not rest on them.

"I work damn hard, too," Rabach said chuckling. "I'm gifted with some natural ability to run and jump. But the funny thing is the older you get, that stuff seems to go away quicker and quicker."

Casey Rabach takes over

Washington's starting center

job after signing as a free agent in the offseason from Baltimore.

"Casey's going to be a big addition to this team," running back Clinton Portis said.Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs walks through the practice field as his players stretch during the morning session.