They don't play, yet they get lockers, uniforms, play books, paychecks -- and yards of Ace bandages. They don't get seats on the team plane or spots on the roster, but they do get to call themselves Washington Redskins because, officially, that is what they are.

This is the life of the young football player on the injured reserve list, the pro football equivalent of being redshirted.

By definition, the player is not well enough to play the season, but he is not hurt badly enough to miss practice.

And, guess what? It's all perfectly proper.

In years past, tight end Clint Didier, wide receiver Charlie Brown, strong safety Ken Coffey and linebacker Larry Kubin spent their first year here on injured reserve, recovering from injuries and learning the Redskins system, in that order. Didier, for one, says he wouldn't be on the team now were it not for that year.

Sixteen Redskins are on injured reserve now, according to head trainer Bubba Tyer, and about half are practicing with the team.

One is Lionel Vital, a darting little running back from Nicholls State who was drafted in the seventh round last spring.

On Aug. 20, Vital was placed on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring.

Not coincidentally, on Aug. 20, most of the outside world lost touch with Lionel Vital.

"I'm here," he said yesterday after practice at Redskin Park. "We're all here. Hey, we're the future Redskins. We'll be the ones who are here in two years."

Since recovering, he has taken on almost as many personalities as Sybil, all for the Redskins' cause.

In practice for the Redskins defense, he portrays opposing running backs. "I've been Walter Payton, Wilbert Montgomery, Joe Morris, and now I'm (Cleveland's) Earnest Byner. I get all the little scat-backs," he says.

Rookie Danzell Lee, out for the first five weeks of regular-season practice with a strained back, plays opposing tight ends. Wide receiver Mark McGrath, who strained his thigh in early August, plays two ways: he is a wide receiver against the Redskins defense and a defensive back against the Redskins offense. Linebacker Monte Coleman, who is waiting another week until he returns to the active roster, played New York Giant Lawrence Taylor last week against the Washington offense.

Coleman is different; he will return to the active 45-man roster sometime soon. The others, almost all rookies and free agents, likely will not.

"Professional redshirting" is nothing new in the National Football League, and it's all within the rules.

No team can release a player who is injured, which explains why so many players go on injured reserve. When a player gets well, the team has three options: release him, activate him, or keep him on injured reserve through the season.

Because most teams do not want to send promising rookies through waivers to get them off injured reserve, the choice becomes obvious: keep them there, pay them, get extra bodies on the practice field and see how much they learn.

"We have had several guys with injuries here who have had an extra year to look everything over," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "Sometimes, it seems like they are a different guy when they come back the next year."

A quick glance at the Redskins' roster illustrates the point. Pittsburgh put defensive lineman Tom Beasley and center Rick Donnalley on IR for their rookie years; the Los Angeles Raiders did the same with receivers Calvin Muhammad and Malcolm Barnwell; Philadelphia put kick returner Ken Jenkins on IR his first year; the Los Angeles Rams did it with tackle Dan McQuaid last season.

Said Didier, who missed the 1981 season with a hamstring injury but practiced with the team for about 12 weeks of that season: "It was a blessing in disguise. If I look at it honestly, I don't think I would have made the team if that hadn't happened."

The injury, of course, has to be legitimate, said General Manager Bobby Beathard. Often, the league's doctors check just to make sure.

"You don't want to risk a draft choice by trying to stash somebody," Beathard said.

For fans wondering where all the Redskins' draft choices have gone, the answer lies partially in the injured reserve list. Lee (sixth round) is there, and so are Vital and tight end Terry Orr (10th round). Orr, whose knee injury was much more serious than Vital's and Lee's, is expected to practice again soon.

"I'd like to be playing, of course, but I do like going against our first-team defense," Lee said. "It's not that I really show the coaches that much, because I'm running the other team's offense. But I'm getting confidence in myself and learning for next year."

Center Jeff Bostic (hyperextended right elbow) did not practice yesterday. Gibbs said Bostic probably will practice snapping today, but if he can't, Darryl Grant will snap Sunday at Cleveland.

Although Beasley (strained groin) watched practice and is listed as doubtful for the game, Gibbs said he is expected to be available against the Browns.

The Redskins apparently discussed the possibility of bringing back Todd Liebenstein, who was waived Oct. 1, to replace Beasley if Beasley had to be placed on injured reserve and if Steve Hamilton was not well enough to be activated.

Muhammad, who seems to have dropped to No. 4 receiver, worked only the last five plays in offensive practice yesterday and did not catch a pass.