Mark Wilson called his mother in Northern California on Tuesday morning hoping to surprise her with good news: the 6-6, 295-pound rookie offensive lineman would be starting his first NFL game this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Apparently news travels fast.
"She had already found out through the Internet," Wilson said. "She was pretty excited. Everybody knows about it back home now, so we should have about 600 people [in Northern California] watching me."
Wilson has yet to see a snap in the regular season. As the Redskins' fifth-round pick last April, he has been inactive for eight of the team's 10 games this season. And in the two games he was active for, he did not play.
"It's hard to lose, but it's even harder when you're on the sidelines watching," he said. "We have great guys on this team, guys who can really play. I'm just going to do my part and hopefully we can get something going."
Wilson, who turned 24 earlier this month, hails from McArthur, Calif., and attended California University. He started 48 consecutive games at left tackle for Cal--dating back to his freshman year--and earned a team award for the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman. He was also named first-team All-Pac 10.
In the pros, Wilson has spent considerable time working with assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel on skills.
Wilson and fellow rookie O-lineman Jim Molinaro, the Redskins' sixth-round pick last year and one of Wilson's closest friends, have focused on blocking technique, footwork and adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.
"I've improved on my initial quickness," Wilson said. "I've improved everywhere, really. I'm a lot lower out of my run blocks. I'm able to sit down and bend my knees a lot better on my pass sets. I have tighter hands. Buges has been back there every day cracking the whip, so I've just been taking the coaching and learning as much as I can."
Wilson is part of a revamped right side of the offensive line this week. With right guard Randy Thomas sidelined 2-4 weeks with a hamstring injury, Ray Brown will shift to take Thomas's position and Wilson is in at tackle.
Brown has started eight of the Redskins' 10 games at right tackle, taking over for Jon Jansen, who is on injured reserve.
"Mark will do fine," said Brown, an 18-year veteran. "He's got the work ethic and the skills to succeed. Now all he needs is to get experience in a game."
Said Wilson: "I've worked hard in the weight room and I've worked hard learning the calls and the schemes. And I'm playing next to Ray Brown, so I've got a lot of help there. I'm just going to prepare as hard as I can and be ready to go.
Wilson's first start comes against the NFL's top-ranked defense. The Steelers run a 3-4 defensive alignment and use linebackers to get pressure on quarterbacks. It is expected Wilson will be matched up against Aaron Smith, a 6-5, 298-pound defensive end, who leads the Steelers with six sacks.
"They're a tough defense," said Wilson, who spent extra time studying film of the Steelers' defense on Tuesday. "They do a lot of moving around. We just have to be sound with our technique."
Said head coach Joe Gibbs: "This will be Mark's chance to step in and perform. I think it will be a good experience for him against one of the best defenses in the NFL."
So how will Wilson feel come Sunday morning, hours before game time? Will the nerves kick in?
"I'm preparing myself as best I can," he said. "If everything goes as planned this week, I'll just be calm and ready to play."