The Redskins raised a lot of eyebrows when in the 6th round of the draft, they selected another lineman from the offensive side of the ball, rather than the defensive side. Many proverbial armchair quarterbacks were a little surprised when the Redskins took Jim Molinaro with their last selection in in this year's draft. The Redskins still needed defensive line help, and conventional wisdom dictated that that was where they would look with one of their last two picks. But they didn't. Instead they went with the best player left on their draft list -- a big left tackle from Notre Dame.
Molinaro is an interesting prospect. Like his new teammate Chris Cooley, Molinaro started on the opposite side of the ball playing defensive tackle and only moved to the offensive tackle position in his sophomore year at Notre Dame (2001). It's a misnomer that playing the offensive and defensive lines isn't much different. The basic fundamentals are just so intrinsically different. A defensive lineman needs to be on his toes at all times and able to pursue the ball. An offensive lineman does all his dirty work from (hopefully) a very square base.
So why did Molinaro make the switch?
Well it was a switch that probably caused great internal conflict. Molinaro originally chose Notre Dame because he thought that there was a better chance of him starting on the defensive side of the ball. With current NFL players Grant Irons and Anthony Weaver ahead of Molinaro on the depth chart though, it just wasn't working out that way. So when the coaching staff asked him if he was interested in changing positions in 2001, he did. But as stated earlier, the positions are not as similar as some people seem to believe and Jim had to work hard at the move. He used 2001 to try to get re-acclimated at the OT position a little, and though he saw no starting time, he did get to see a fair bit of special teams action. It was a step, he was getting on the field more regularly.
Then Notre Dame hired (now) head coach Tyrone Willingham. Willingham obviously had not moved Molinaro to OT himself, but he and offensive line coach Mike Denbrock were intrigued with Molinaro; "I think when we got here as a coaching staff, through the course of the first winter conditioning with the players and we looked at a guy 6-foot-6, 295-pounds at that time who could move his feet and really do some good things. That was a guy we had to try to get on the field," Denbrock stated in 2003.
The resultant injection of life into Molinaro was instrumental in his success. With 4 seniors already on the offensive line for 2002, the impact wouldn't be immediate, but the possibility of contributing 'soon' was enough for Jim. "I made the switch and it was an opportunity to get on the field a little bit faster. I saw with the contributions I had made, it could be the turning point of my career whether to keep playing or not," Molinaro said. "It definitely worked out the best for me."
That it did.
Molinaro would see some limited playing time in 2002 in the Pittsburgh and Michigan State games but his big break would come in the Rutgers game. Jordan Black was suspended by the team for violating a team rule, and Molinaro would get his first official college start in Notre Dame's second last contest. He performed very well registering eight knockdowns and clearing a rushing lane for a 28-yard TD run by Ryan Grant. He also blew up defensive end Raheem Orr on a 37-yard TD pass by QB Carlyle Holiday. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty solid for a guy who had not even seen a start on the offense since his days at Bethlehem Catholic High School in Pennsylvania.
He was also solid enough that despite Black returning for the final game against USC, Molinaro would earn another start. This time at right tackle for the injured Brennan Curtin. And then as if that weren't enough, Black was suspended again for the team's Gator Bowl game against North Carolina State. Molinaro was moved back to left tackle, and this time for keeps.
Four Notre Dame offensive linemen were selected in the 2002 NFL Draft. Now not only was Molinaro firmly entrenched as the starter at left tackle, but it was also on a very inexperienced, questionable offensive line. As one of only two returning o-linemen (Sean Milligan was the other), it was time for Jim to step up. And by all accounts, he did just that. "He's really taken those young kids and tried along with us, how to do things the right way, how to practice the right way, how to prepare themselves for a game the right way, he's been invaluable to me trying to get those younger guys ready," Denbrock said. Amazing considering that Molinaro had started just 3 games prior to 2003. So predominant was his leadership, that he was named game captain 6 times last season.
And so that brings us to now.
The Redskins were shellacked in the press for not going after defensive line help instead of Molinaro. But what kind of talent are you guaranteed to get in the 6th round?
While Molinaro will struggle to make the roster as any 6th round pick will do, he does bring one huge asset -- up-side. Jim Molinaro's best football is yet to come.