"Hey, where's McLinton?"

"In the training room, where do you think? That's where he always is."

That is usually the conversation that takes place when one tries to locate Harold McLinton before or after a Redskin practice. But do not mistake his absence from the field as a sign of weakness. Harold (Tank) McLinton is a rough customer.

When he steps on the field, there are few unarmored parts of his body, thus the name "Tank," and he uses everything he has to wreak havoc on anyone who gets close. That's why he spends so much time in the training room, making sure all of his parts will work just right.

McLinton was forced to spend most of the day in the training room yesterday, marking the first time he has missed a practice since he broke his leg in 1974.

He was ordered not to work yesterday on his badly strained calf. The Redskins listed him as questionable for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but McLinton said he will play.

Every year, it seems, McLinton has had to fight to keep his job as the starting middle linebacker. He usually wins. This season, he has had a particularly tough challenge from Mike Curtis, but just as McLinton has done every year since 1972, when he first became the Redskins' middle linebacker, he has beaten back the challenge.

"I go to camp every year scared," McLinton said. "There isn't much difference in fear and respect, though. I respect the demands of the position and I respect the people competing against me for it.

"I'm the starter now, but I still have a lot of respect for Mike and he has respect for me. He has always been a household name. I haven't. It's not a secret that he's a very good linebacker.

"When they moved him to middle linebacker I knew I had to be physically ready and have a good camp in order to keep my job," McLinton added.

Curtis, who signed with the Redskins as a free agent last year, started 11 games in 1977 at outside linebacker in place of the injured Chris Hanburger.

Jack Pardee, new Redskin head coach, moved Curtis back to middle linebacker, where he had starred as a Baltimore Colt for 11 seasons.

Curtis though it was the right move, and he set out to win the starting job.

"You have to be a lot better than the incumbent if you're going to beat him out, and Harold has played very well," Curtis said, "but I'm still trying to compete for the job.

"Harold is a very good guy, though, and it isn't a raw-edge competition thing. Jack believes that if you have competition it makes people work harder.

"I believe that, too, but Harold is a good linebacker. He knows the defenses, he's strong, he's enthusiastic and he moves well. Those are all cliches, but they are apropos."

McLinton is a proud person, but he's not cocky.

He said one day that he was in the city talking with a group of people about football. No one knew who he was. Suddenly, someone said, "What do you think of Harold McLinton? I don't think he can cut it. I think the Redskins need a new middle linebacker."

McLinton said he just grinned and said, "Maybe so."

Although he won't say it, McLinton does wish his value was more noticable, but he has made his mark.

Playing the position is not easy. Curtis says he likes playing in the middle more than being an outside linebacker, "Because, for me, it's a natural-reflex action to play the position.When you're outside, you have to wait and hold so much. I don't like that."

"When you play a four-man front," Pardee said, "it puts a lot of pressure on the middle linebacker because everybody is coming at you. It takes an exceptional guy to play the spot. I think we are very well off at the position."

Pardee said McLinton had a good preseason and earned the starting job.

McLinton was nervous yesterday, however, because his injured calf forced him to spend the afternoon in the training room.

"I believe in working," he said, "but they made me stay off it. It was either that or go to the hospital. So I just have to stay off and treat it."

McLinton said he has played and practiced since he was kicked in the left calf about five weeks ago, but the leg has swelled.

Finally, in the second half of the New England game last Sunday, McLinton's leg cramped and he had to sit out the second half.

"I don't like not working," McLinton said. "I want to practice and I [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]