One day last week, head coach Joe Gibbs walked into the Redskins' weight training room to talk with head strength and conditioning coach John "Mother" Dunn. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of rookie linebacker Robert McCune lifting weights and working out.
"Man, he is really built," Gibbs would say later, marveling at McCune's physique. "He's got muscles bulging everywhere. Most football players are really well built, but he's on a different level."
It's not surprising that McCune, a 6-1, 245-pounder out of Louisville, would be a weight room warrior at Redskins Park. At John L. LeFlore High School in Mobile, Ala., he won back-to-back power-lifting titles as a junior and senior. McCune followed up high school with four years in the Army; his rigorous training included four-mile runs, pushups and sit-ups.
Following his Army service, McCune was a walk-on linebacker at Louisville and ended up starting his junior and senior seasons. His performance--not to mention his work ethic--convinced the Redskins to select him in the fifth round of last April's NFL Draft.
At age 26, McCune is ready for a new chapter of his life.
McCune is among a group of players in the mix for the middle linebacker job in training camp. Veterans Mike Barrow and Lemar Marshall would appear to have the advantage early on and coaches have been impressed with second-year player Brandon Barnes.
McCune said he is aware of the vacancy at the position, but for now he is more focused on studying the playbook and applying what he learns on the practice field.
"I just want to go in and help the team," McCune said. "I am not going in to take anyone's position. I'm just going in to play football and enjoy the opportunity to play in the NFL."
In the past, assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams has been cautious about giving rookies significant playing time. McCune could be the exception because, at age 26, he has maturity and life experiences that most NFL rookies lack.
"The fact that he's more mature--I like that," Williams said shortly after the draft. "We want to coach as many mature men as we can. I'm anxious to see him play in live conditions. He's got a good frame and he has shown toughness.
"The thing he's going to have to work on is all the mental gymnastics that a middle linebacker in our system has to have. That will only come with experience and time."
McCune says his military background and his tours of duty overseas forced him to mature quickly. It gave him a unique perspective of the world.
"Since I didn't get recruited much out of high school, I went into the military and earned some college money," he said. "I got a chance to travel around the world. It changed me because being in Korea and Kuwait, you see a lot of things that make you appreciate what you have here in the United States.
"Then I walked on in college and worked hard. I was just glad to get a chance to play football. Not everyone is fortunate enough to play the game of football. I just took advantage of every opportunity I had."
At Louisville, McCune registered 320 tackles (169 solo) with six sacks, two interceptions and nine pass deflections in his college career. Last season, he earned All-Conference USA honors as he led the team with 115 tackles (57 solo). He also had a pair of sacks, an interception and four pass break-ups.
McCune's age did not scare off the Redskins. In fact, coaches view it as an asset.
Said Williams: "The NFL is a high-collision game, and you often wonder at 26 how many collisions players have had in their careers. Robert has a pretty clean history in that regard."
In the ongoing Organized Team Activity sessions this month, McCune has shown the speed and leverage to play outside as well as inside linebacker. (At Louisville, he was a member of the 400-meter relay team in track.)
Meantime, McCune has immersed himself in special teams duties during OTAs.
"I love playing on special teams," he said. "You get a chance to fly around. I know that coming in I'm going to have to start out on special teams. I'm going to give 100 percent effort."