Two weeks ago, the Redskins presented what they call the Kodak Award to rookie linebacker Larry Kubin, who has been on injured reserve all season, rehabilitating a bad knee.
"It's for giving the best look of anyone on the scout team," Coach Joe Gibbs explained. "He played the role of Lawrence Taylor before the Giants game and did a great job. Another week, we had him play Randy White. He really bounces people around. He's one of our most aggressive guys in practice."
The Redskins have monitored closely the progress of Kubin, a sixth-round gamble choice in the last draft, and the central figure in a dispute between the team and his alma mater, Penn State.
Because of what Penn State believes was unfair pressure applied by Washington on Kubin to sign last summer instead of playing his senior college season, the Redskins have been banned from watching Nittany Lion practices, talking to players or reviewing game films.
Considering the pro-caliber players usually produced by Joe Paterno's program, that is a stiff penalty for the Redskins.
"We'd like to be able to go there and scout like normal," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "We thought we handled the situation correctly. We let Larry make the decision, but I guess Joe doesn't feel that way."
Paterno declined to discuss the situation. But a Penn State source said Paterno was told by Beathard after the draft that the Redskins didn't intend to sign Kubin until after the season, so Kubin was included in the Lions' plans for this fall.
The source said the Redskins "kept badgering" Kubin and increasing their contract offer until the player signed. Paterno then wrote Beathard a letter telling him, the source said, "to stay the hell away from Penn State."
Kubin said at first he was surprised by Paterno's reaction. "But he was disappointed losing a starting defensive player," Kubin said. "I think he had to send up a little smoke about it to show he didn't like one of his players being taken. He's a class person and this will blow over, I'm sure of that.
"The decision was mine. I am the one who wanted to talk with the Redskins. I had to do what was best for me and my wife. It finally became a business decision. I decided to come here rather than play another year and risk more injury and hurt my draft position. I figured it was better to get a year's experience with the pros."
Before he signed with Washington, Kubin was considered by most scouts to be a potential first-round draft choice, depending on how well he came back from his knee operation. Although he was entering his fifth college year, and thus was eligible for the draft in April, he still was available in the sixth round because he already had announced his intention to return to Penn State.
"He's our first-round draft choice a year ahead of time," Beathard said. "He's done nothing since he's come here to make us think otherwise. He's a fine player who's going to get better and better."
At Penn State, Kubin was a standup end whose main duty was to rush the passer. The Redskins have converted him to middle linebacker, where he will challenge Neal Olkewicz, currently the team's leading tackler, in training camp next summer. But he thinks he also could play on the outside.
"I was a little disappointed when they placed me on injured reserve," Kubin said, "but I've come to realize my knee wasn't ready. For a while, it felt like I was playing on ice skates. I had to relearn everything. Now it's 100 percent.
"And I've been able to take my time and learn a new position. This is a thinking man's game and I've started to learn how to recognize offenses and make reads and everything else a middle linebacker must do.
"This all has been a very educational experience for me. It's given me a year's head start, which is why I made the decision in the first place. Now I think I'm ready to take two big steps into the NFL at training camp. I'm just waiting my turn."
Kubin has done enough in practices to impress his teammates and Gibbs. If the Redskins switch to a 3-4 defense next season, one reason will be to take advantage of Kubin's ability.
"He's a physical guy, a real scrapper," said Gibbs. "He's really strong and has explosiveness. And he's quick. Some guys are in the wrong profession and some guys are in the right ones. He's in the right one. He enjoys it."
Kubin (6-feet, 230 pounds) plays so aggressively in practices he has been given an assortment of nicknames by his teammates. In training camp, it was "Butkus." Then "Scrappy." Now he says he's being called "Spanky."
"I try to play as hard as I can without hurting anyone," he said. "I think it helps get them ready. That's why the award really was nice. It made me feel like I was part of the team. I just wish I could be hitting Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants instead of Redskins."
Kubin isn't the only prospect on the injured reserve list. The team believes such rookies as tight end Clint Didier, quarterback Phil Kessel, defensive end Mike Clark, linebacker Mel Kaufman and receivers Charlie Brown and Cris Crissy could help in the future. Halfback Clarence Harmon, guard Fred Dean, a preseason starter, tight end Rich Caster and fullback Wilbur Jackson all should be 100 percent by training camp, although Caster had talked about retiring at the end of the season.
Center Bob Kuziel, however, has a chronic back injury and has been advised by doctors to retire. Other veterans still on the list include center Dan Peiffer and tight end Gregg McCrary.