Harold McLinton says he always plays "as hard as I can" everytime he puts on a Washington Redskins' uniform. But Saturday night, he probably will be hustling more than normal to hold onto his job at middle linebacker.
McLinton, who has started in the middle for Washington since the Goerge Allen days, will be at that position when the Redskins meet the Denver Broncos in a 9:30 p.m. (WJLA TV-7) preseason game.
But he realizes that there is growing concern on the team about his quickness, his legs and his ability to hold up physically over the course of the season. And he knows what that means. Once again, his job is in jeopardy, just as it has been almost from the day he became a starter.
This time, however, the warnings are more serious. The youth movement that continues to sweep the Redskins endangers almost every player over 30. In McLinton's case, he is geing challenged by no fewer than four youngsters, none having played the position before in the NFL.
To avoid being the squad's next major cut, McLinton, 32, a 10-year veteran, needs a consistently good game Saturday night and in the remaining two exhibition contests. It probably would help also if none of his challengers, especially Don Hover, stands out that much, since McLinton's experience is the one thing that best could keep him on the team.
"I think I am in my prime," said McLinton. "Oh, I don't mean I'm as quick as I used to be. A lot of the young linebackers are faster than I am.
"But this is when my experience and my feel for the game should be at its peak. There is no substitute for being in the game and for knowing the defenses and for knowing where to be at the right time. That's experience."
McLinton is convinced he can play "three more seasons" before it's time to retire. And he says anyone who thinks "I have circulation problems in my legs, like it has been written, is mistaken. I'm in better condition at this stage of camp than I've probably ever been. It's been that kind of camp.
"Sure, I have varicose veins, but so does Elvin Hayes and they haven't slowed him up. I had my circulation checked out before I came to camp and I'm fine. If I have to produce a doctor's report saying that, I guess I'll have to.
"I get tired of hearing this. Does it affect me? No question, especially in my off season job. I work with kids and they come up and say I'm not very good and what do I do? I just have to go out and do the best I can and make people respect me and not worry about the things I can't control. "I've got a lot of football left in me. For the sake of me, I don't understand why anyone thinks I can't play."
McLinton is one of the game's true gentlemen. He is very team-oriented deeply religious and a model citizen who spends his offseasons as a youth services specialist for Metro. He does not complain, nor is he controversial. In fact, he talked about his present predicament calmly and without bitterness.
Although he has withstood past challenges - "My job is always in danger, but competition is good for any player" - this coaching staff seems more ready than ones past to install younger, quicker players as starters and take a chance on mistakes rather than go another year with an older athlete nearing the end of his career.
Like other veterans on this team such as guard Ron Saul, McLinton has gotten this message. But he says he can still produce quality football "every game for the whole season. I had a calf problem in the opener last year against New England and it sidelined me against Philadelphia, but other than that, I played the rest last year. I can do it again this season."
This will be a key game for a lot of the more experienced players. Coach Jack Pardee said he again will use almost all of his 69 players "to get a last look at everyone before we cut to 60 on Tuesday.
"We want to get our starters set and then spend the next three weeks getting ready for Houston (in the season opener)."
Quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Kim McQuilken again will play a half each, as they did last week against Tampa Bay. Pardee said he doubted if many of the veterans would be in for more than "a couple of quarters; that's all we'd like to use them."
The Redskins aren't expected to vary much from their conservative offense of a week ago, when they beat the Busc, 10-7. That could mean Mark Moseley, who has been booting 60-yard field goals in practice, may get a shot at a NFL record-range try through the mile-high atmosphere here.
Moseley says he has no doubts he can kick a 60- to 65-yarder in a game. This week, he cleared 64 years, although there was no rush, by at least seven yards.
Denver has been rocked this week by the retirement of defensive end Lyle Alzado, who has decided to become a professional boxer. The Broncos also plan to take a long look at their younger players.
Cornerback Joe Lavender probably will sign a series of three one-year contracts this weekend. The Redskins and he had reached agreement previously on the pact but there had not been any formal signing. "If he reaches all the incentive clauses, he will be among the elite cornerbacks in terms of salary in the league," said Lavender's adviser, Jack Willis. CAPTION: Picture, Linebacker Harold McLinton: The legs are fine. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post