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Redskins rookie Wilson to get first NFL start

November 24, 2004

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Mark Wilson can cook, an unusual attribute for a rookie living an NFL bachelor's life far from home.

Just don't expect him to go heavy on the garlic.

"I've kind of cut back on the garlic," the Washington Redskins tackle said. "I got sick of garlic after working in it for four years."

Until this week, the most notable thing about Wilson was his high school job as a garlic harvester for four years in rural northern California. The fifth-round draft from California-Berkeley has not played a down all season, so all anyone could ask him about were those formative days in the wet fields of Shasta County.

Now he's about to get his first NFL snaps, and they will come against the top defense in the league. An injury to Randy Thomas has forced Wilson into the starting lineup at right tackle for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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"We'll throw him into probably one of the toughest games anybody could go into and play against," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Playing the No. 1 defense in the league in Pittsburgh with their home crowd there."

Wilson didn't expect to see much playing time as a rookie. He and fellow fifth-round pick Jim Molinaro were supposed to spend the season developing their blocking technique as possible long-term projects, learning from established tackles Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels. Molinaro has played only on special teams, except for one snap as an emergency defensive lineman.

But right tackle Jansen ruptured his Achilles' tendon in August. He was replaced by 41-year-old Ray Brown. Now Thomas, the right guard, is out two to four weeks after straining a hamstring in Sunday's loss at Philadelphia. To fill the hole, the Redskins are shuffling Brown to guard and giving Wilson a shot at tackle.

"The one thing I'm going to really try to do is make sure the line of communication is clear," said Brown, who noted that he's old enough to be the 24-year-old Wilson's father, "that I know what I'm knowing, he knows what he's doing, that we don't get into situations where we're blocking against one another."

Wilson's upcoming start is big news in his hometown of Fall River Mills.

"My mom was pretty excited, so we should have 600 people watching back home," Wilson said. "I called her (Tuesday), but she had already found out through the Internet, so there was no surprise there."

Asked if he would have any butterflies, Wilson responded with talk of more practical matters: his footwork, his center of gravity when run blocking and his knee placement when protecting the quarterback.

"If everything goes as planned this week, I'll just be calm and ready to play," Wilson said.

Wilson's big chance comes against a somber backdrop of a season gone awry for the Redskins (3-7), the lowest scoring team in the league. The rookie has only been able to watch as his teammates have failed to the meet the expectations that came along with Gibbs' return to coaching.

"I want to be out there with those guys, but more than anything those guy are my brothers," Wilson said. "And anytime you see your family struggling, it hurts you inside. I'm just happy I'm going to get a chance to go out there and help them. I'm not a play-maker were I go out there and make catches or outstanding runs or anything like that, but hopefully I'll be able to set some guys up to make some plays."

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