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Molinaro Learning the Ropes in Rookie Year

Spectators hoping to see offensive lineman Jim Molinaro in action this season ought not to have taken their eyes off the field while the game clock is ticking.

That's because Molinaro could enter the game at almost any time.

The Redskins' sixth-round draft pick last offseason has done a bit of everything during his rookie year. He has started at left tackle versus Atlanta in the preseason finale, returned a squib kick five yards on special teams and played on the defensive line in goal-line situations.

You read that right. He played defensive line in the Redskins' 17-10 win at Detroit on Nov. 7.

"Wherever they tell me to go, that's what I'll do," Molinaro said. "That's kind of how rookies are around here."

During the last several games, Molinaro has in effect become the Redskins' first two-way player since cornerback/wide receiver Champ Bailey.

Molinaro played defensive tackle against the Lions when Phillip Daniels suffered a groin injury and the Redskins needed to shift around personnel along the defensive line.

"Phillip had gotten hurt, so we were short one of our big guys for the goal line packages," defensive coordinator-defensive line coach Greg Blache said. "We had prepped Jim and he was our extra guy for goal line. We always go into ballgames with seven defensive linemen and we use six on the goal line. So any time you have an injury, all of a sudden you need another one."

Said Molinaro: "They told me if an injury to a regular defensive lineman ever happened, I'd be going in on goal line. It was kind of cool getting my first regular-season play on the defensive side of the ball."

The 6-6, 309-pounder did not make a tackle during his first two stints on the defensive line, but the early evaluations on Molinaro's play were positive.

"He's been waiting in the wings the last few weeks," Blache said. "He had his opportunity. They were his first snaps of the regular season. I was hoping they'd run the ball so it could really test him out. It was good for him to get the first one out of the way, but he did a good job."

Molinaro's teammates on the defensive line were happy with the attempt to convert one of the team's offensive linemen to the defensive side.

"That's our unsung hero defensively," defensive tackle Joe Salave'a joked. "That's our diamond in the rough. We tried to keep it under wraps, but Detroit was the place for his debut. He did great."

With Daniels sidelined for the rest of the season due to a wrist injury, the Redskins signed defensive tackle Cedric Killings to the roster. That means Molinaro will remain one injury away from playing in defensive goal-line packages.

"Because we don't carry that many defensive linemen, he'll always be one of the guys that will be an alternate for us at the goal line," Blache said.

As a rookie, Molinaro said he would jump at the chance to play no matter what the position.

"If they call me, I think it's great," he said.

The Redskins' choice of Molinaro as a defensive fill-in is not a surprise given his history. Molinaro played some defensive tackle while in college at Notre Dame and actually made a solo tackle for the Fighting Irish during his freshman year in 2000.

At Bethlehem Catholic High School in Pennsylvania, Molinaro was a three-time starter and four-year letter winner as an offensive and defensive tackle. He was named an honorable mention All-American by USA Today after posting 18 solo tackles, 29 assists and 1.5 sacks as a senior in 1998.

When asked if he would ever consider himself to be a true two-way player, Molinaro was amused and said, "No, never."

The hamstring injury suffered by right guard Randy Thomas during the Week 11 tilt at Philadelphia opened a spot on the right side of the offensive line. But head coach Joe Gibbs and assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel decided to start Mark Wilson, another rookie, at the position in the Pittsburgh game.

Gibbs and Bugel considered plugging Molinaro in that spot but opted against it because Molinaro has practiced primarily on the left side of the line.

Molinaro played in each of the Redskins' first 10 games and has been willing to help the team in any capacity. He said that life in the NFL is challenging, as he expected, but staying focused has helped his adjustment through the rigors of the season.

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