ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Robert Green met J.D. Gibbs, the oldest son of Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, as a freshman at William and Mary five years ago, they quickly became friends.
"I was excited to meet Coach Gibbs' son. I used to tease him ever since I was a freshman. I was telling him ever since I can remember, 'I'm going to be playing for your father one day.' He would never respond or anything. It was basically just a joke at the time, anyway," Green said.
It won't be a joke tonight when Green gets his first chance to carry the ball in an exhibition when the Redskins meet the Miami Dolphins at the Citrus Bowl.
Green has been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp. With four players (Mark Rypien, Darrell Green, Jim Lachey and Desmond Howard) holding out and with the team struggling in practice, Gibbs was testy at the end of the week. He called Thursday's practice "awful."
But Green's performance has been gratifying because Gibbs was one of the few people in the NFL who thought Green deserved a chance to make it. Although Green set a William and Mary career rushing record of 3,543 yards, pro scouts wrote him off as too small (5 feet 7) and too slow (4.75 seconds in the 40) to make it in the NFL.
Green wasn't even invited to the Indianapolis scouting combine meeting for the top 450 prospects (only 336 are drafted) in the country.
Green had one thing going for him. Gibbs came to some William and Mary games to watch his son, J.D., play defense. That meant he also saw Green carry the ball. Which helps explain why Gibbs offered him a contract after the draft.
"It helped me a lot that Coach Gibbs saw me in person," Green said. "That was my ace in the hole. That's a lot different than a scout telling him something or looking at it on film. He saw me in person."
Gibbs liked what he saw. "If you go back and look at William and Mary, he made tons of yardage," he said.
Gibbs also got a good recommendation from his son. "J.D. liked him," Gibbs said. "J.D. said he was going to do some good things."
So far he has. He's looked good in the drills and in the Wednesday night scrimmage, he took a short screen pass and turned the corner for a touchdown, although a flag was dropped on the play.
"It's a little early, but he looks good, and he's made some plays. I'm anxious to get him into some preseason games," Gibbs said.
Green is as tall as Ricky Ervins, who gained 680 yards as a rookie, but he said with a smile, "He [Ricky] calls me shorty."
"Those power-packed guys are hard to get off their feet," Gibbs said.
Not that Gibbs criticizes the scouts for overlooking Green.
"I don't think Robert's got a 40 that thrills anybody, and he's a short guy and he was their running back, so you look at him and say he's not going to be a good special-teams player," Gibbs said in explaining why he thought Green was bypassed.
Because Green didn't play special teams at William and Mary, his biggest task in the exhibition games will be to show he can handle that duty.
"If I make the team, that's probably going to be how [I do it]," he said.
Green has been battling the rap that he's too short to play football his whole career. When he came out of high school in the Washington suburb of Fort Washington, he wasn't recruited by a single Division I-A school. He went to William and Mary because it was the best of the five I-AA schools that recurited him.
"It's the same stuff over and over," he said. "I have to keep proving people wrong at every different phase of my career from high school to college to the pros. Hopefully, I can keep doing it."
Right now, he's enjoying trying to beat the odds in Washington.
NOTES: Gibbs, upset about the team's practice Thursday, ordered the team to practice in pads yesterday in Carlisle, Pa., before they flew to Orlando. The players usually just walk through drills in shorts the day before a game. . . . QB Cary Conklin is expected to start tonight, although Gibbs hasn't announced the starter and maintains that Jeff Rutledge will start one of the first two games. When Gibbs was asked how Rutledge went from a holder last year to a potential starter this year, he said, "I know he was [the holder] because we had another guy [Rypien] playing quarterback. He isn't here. He's in Washington [state] some place, walking or skiing or whatever they do out there."