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Offensive Tackle Depth An Offseason Focus

For most of the last six years, Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen have been mainstays of the Redskins' offensive line. Only in 2004, when Jansen suffered an Achilles injury that sidelined him for the entire season, did the Redskins have a different set of bookend tackles: Samuels and veteran Ray Brown.

Brown has since retired from football. For coaches, one of the top off-season priorities is to identify reliable backup tackles.

Assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel, a long-time offensive line guru, has an inexperienced group of backup tackles to work with right now.

Jim Molinaro, the Redskins' sixth-round draft pick in 2004, is entering his third season with the team. He was listed as the backup to Samuels last season, but he saw limited action on game day. Instead, Molinaro continued to develop his skills on the Redskins Park practice fields.

The 6-6, 310-pounder recognizes that this coming season could be a pivotal one for him. Last year, if Samuels or Jansen had been injured, coaches would have turned to Brown, at least as a short-term solution. This year, it's Molinaro who could get the call.

"For my career, it's time for me to step forward and show these coaches what I can do," he said.

Molinaro played both left and right tackle during college at Notre Dame. He also has experience playing interior offensive line for Bugel; when he arrived in Washington in spring 2004, he initially lined up at guard before coaches moved him to the outside.

"It's been tough waiting for an opportunity," Molinaro said. "But I've been listening to Coach Buges and the older [linemen]. Eventually when I get in there, I'm going to show what I can do.

"It's going to start in OTAs and mini-camp. I want to show that I can play both tackle positions, and guard if need be. I told Coach Buges, 'Wherever you need me, I'll go in.'"

Another candidate at tackle is newcomer Jonta Woodard, a first-year player out of Louisville who hopes to establish himself in the NFL. The last two years, Woodard started at left tackle for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League.

Both head coach Joe Gibbs and director of pro personnel Louis Riddick have mentioned the 6-5, 325-pound Woodard as an intriguing prospect. Coming out of college, Woodard's NFL career was sidetracked due to a legal matter in Louisville.

Woodard regards his experience playing in the CFL as a "tune-up" for the NFL.

"The CFL is a step faster than college, but it's a step slower than the NFL," he said. "So I still have to get used to playing at this level. Over there, there were players at certain positions who were good, but in the NFL, every player at every position is good."

Woodard initially signed with the Redskins on Jan. 30.

"I feel like I'm picking the offense up pretty well," he said. "I'm a strong guy, but I feel like I'm also quick coming off the line. It's all technique and knowing the blocking schemes."

Added Woodard: "I'm learning from one of the best offensive line coaches that there is [in Bugel]. And I have a Pro Bowler in Chris Samuels who I'm learning from. Right now I'm just trying to take it all in and just get better."

Another newcomer competing for a job at tackle is Kili Lefotu, the Redskins' seventh-round draft pick out of Arizona. Team officials like Lefotu's versatility--he played guard, center and some tackle in college-and it's expected that the 6-5, 315-pounder will be in the mix for a backup job at several positions along the offensive line.

Jon Alston, a 6-5, 306-pound offensive lineman, spent the 2005 season developing his skills on the practice squad. At the recently concluded Rookie Camp on May 5-7, coaches had Alston line up at right guard, but he has the size and versatility to play outside as well.

The Redskins also signed undrafted rookie Chris Pino in early May to compete for a roster spot at tackle. Pino, 6-4 and 315 pounds, played his college ball at San Diego State. He has reportedly battled weight issues in the past, but he has surprising mobility for his size.

Other linemen on the roster, such as veteran newcomers Mike Pucillo and Tyson Walter and young players Ikechuku Ndukwe and Jasper Harvey, have experience mostly at guard or center. They may also need to display versatility in order to secure a roster spot in training camp.

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