Packers' Tony Moll Gets Tryout at RT
Next game: Sunday, December 14th at Jacksonville
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Tony Moll was supposed to be a project when the Green Bay Packers took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft.
A converted tight end, he had played only one season on the offensive line at Nevada and wasn't even invited to the NFL's scouting combine. The Packers drafted two other linemen ahead of Moll that year, so it stood to reason that coaches would have time to help him develop.
And given the first impression he made at an offseason workout, he was going to need all the help he could get.
Instead, Moll was rushed into starting 10 games as a rookie for a team that spent most of the season shuffling its line because of injuries and instability. Moll's play wasn't perfect, but he was competitive -- a word that comes up frequently when coaches talk about him.
But if Moll's rookie season was an unexpected trial by fire, the last three games of this year will be more like a long-term tryout. A season-ending knee injury to veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher gives coaches a chance to evaluate Moll's progress in game conditions.
Not that Packers coaches consider Tauscher's injury a mixed blessing. There's no bright side to losing a veteran cornerstone of the offense, especially when the team isn't ready to give up on its slim shot at making the playoffs.
But Tauscher will be a free agent at the end of the season, and his future with the Packers was unclear even before he got hurt. If Tauscher doesn't return, a strong performance now could help Moll could go into next year's training camp with a leg up on the starting job.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to play, even if it's in a bad situation for another player, it's an opportunity to play," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "You get game experience and tape. And I don't know if you look at it as an audition, but your body of work is being displayed out there. Certainly, I think he'll make the most of it."
Moll hates the fact that his opportunity came at the expense of Tauscher, a close friend. But a shot is a shot, and he doesn't intend to squander it.
"Everyone wants to be able to start," Moll said. "It's always unfortunate when it's because of an injury, and you don't want anybody to be injured, no matter who it is or on what team. But I am the backup, so I've got to fill in and I'm prepared."
Moll has some idea of what Tauscher is going through. Last season, Moll sustained a neck stinger in the preseason that limited him to playing in nine games.
"Getting injured is very frustrating," Moll said. "You kind of feel like you're giving up on the team. Ever since Pop Warner, you're told to play through pain, and it's the name of the game now is just to stay injury-free. It's extremely tough. Hopefully, it's something Mark can bounce back from because it's extremely unfortunate for him, for us, and for his career."
Going into a three-game stretch knowing that he'll likely be starting at a specific position will be a fairly new experience for Moll, who until now has had to be ready to play any one of four as a backup.
Philbin said studying several positions gives Moll a better big-picture feel for the offense.
"It also gets him so nothing should rattle him," Philbin said. "Because sometimes, he gets called into action, there's been times where he hasn't played for three weeks, then all of a sudden, bang, there he is thrust into the middle of a ballgame."
Moll said he doesn't have a favorite position.
"It's not really a big deal where I play, as long as I can get dirty," he said.
And this time, he insists he's really ready.
"I'll be fine, without a doubt," Moll said. "I have 100 percent confidence going out there. It'll be a little bit easier than my rookie year, when I was just thrown in there."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)