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Small center Molk gets his big chance

David Molk, who will get his first NFL start on Sunday for the Eagles, was an all-state center for his suburban Chicago high school and then a four-year starter at Michigan, where he was a first-team all-American and won the Rimington Award as the nation's best center.

Eagles offensive lineman David Molk. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Eagles offensive lineman David Molk. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

David Molk, who will get his first NFL start on Sunday for the Eagles, was an all-state center for his suburban Chicago high school and then a four-year starter at Michigan, where he was a first-team all-American and won the Rimington Award as the nation's best center.

He's a worker, not a bragger, but Molk figured he had been successful at every level of football, and the next one would be just another in which his talent would carry him through.

"Yeah, at one point in time I did, but then I realized how big an issue my height was," Molk said after practice Thursday. "I realized just going into the combine, 'This is going to be a lot messier than I expected it to be.' "

It wouldn't have mattered to the professional player evaluators if Molk had won the Nobel Prize in college. He was still 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, and in the world of the NFL that made him at least two inches too short and 15 pounds too light to meet their ideal specifications.

"My size has been my only issue. I'm strong and fast. That's all I've got. It's a big man's game," Molk said. "But I was in the Big Ten. I played against guys this size my entire career. It's not like I played a little in college. I played a lot in college."

To prepare for the combine, Molk ingested 6,700 calories a day, including 400 grams of protein, trying to bulk up and please the men who were recording his "measurables."

"It was stupid," Molk said. "I see pictures of myself and it doesn't even look like me."

The Chargers took him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft and he sat behind longtime veteran Nick Hardwick (6-4, 305, thank you very much) and got into some games, but the other knock on Molk is that he isn't versatile enough to play another position. To NFL teams, he's not a center/guard. He's a center, and a short one at that.

At the end of 2013 training camp, on the day of final cutdown, the last San Diego roster spot was between Molk and one of those center/guard guys.

"They said we would know by the end of the day," Molk said. "And I'm sitting in my hotel room in San Diego and it's literally the last second and the GM calls and says, 'Hey, why don't you come on in.' I understood. I knew I was good enough to play, but I also knew when I am an 'only center' and sitting out, it's pretty damn hard to get picked up."

So he went home to Illinois and helped coach and weight-train his high school team last fall, waiting for another year and some team to offer him another chance. There were a few nibbles, but he went with the Eagles, despite the presence of Jason Kelce (6-3, 295), who missed all of eight snaps and then got a seven-year contract, and the presence of backup Julian Vandervelde, one of those center/guard types that coaches love to have.

"I knew there were other places I could have gotten in and the prospects would have looked better initially, but this scheme was a fit and if there was a place I could settle in, I thought this was it," Molk said. "I don't want a team where I hang on for six months and then I'm done. I don't want to keep moving and keep traveling. I want a home. Why not Philly? Why not a system that fits?"

The Eagles signed him during the offseason and he fit in right away, even learning both guard positions, just in case the need ever arose for a 6-1, 290-pound guard. The hidden guard trick, or something like that. He did very well and was on the way to winning the backup spot to Kelce when Vandervelde suffered a back injury that required surgery. The Eagles made an injury settlement, released him, and Molk had the job.

If this season were last season, that's the last we would have heard of David Molk, but the offensive line has been anything but predictable this time around. In the opener, tackle Allen Barbre got hurt, and then guard Evan Mathis got hurt, and there was Molk playing 55 snaps at left guard.

Did the film of that look all right?

"Yeah," Molk said, "I was surprised."

Then on Sunday against the Redskins, Kelce went down after just 27 snaps with a torn muscle in his lower abdomen, a sports hernia, and Molk was at his natural position, making the coverage calls, snapping the ball precisely, moving around and getting the job done better than anyone might have expected, other than Molk.

"David's really smart. He picks up things really quickly," coach Chip Kelly said. "He did a really good job of it in preseason, so we feel comfortable that he can do everything within our scheme."

It's amazing, really. Molk was showing 16-year-olds how to bench-press at this time last year, and on Sunday he'll be the trigger man for one of the most explosive offenses in football.

"For a guy that doesn't always get the chances and I've got to work and work and work and scratch and claw for everything, it fell into my hands here," Molk said.

The measurables haven't changed. He still doesn't duck through the doorway, and the scale stopped at 287 pounds when he weighed in on Thursday, but now, if he does well, NFL teams will see that a little guy can play, too. This little guy, anyway.

"Without question, technique and leverage will overcome size any time," fellow lineman Todd Herremans said. "Unless the size has technique and leverage as well."

Yes, there is that, and Molk will be tested in his first start by 305-pound nose tackle Ian Williams of the 49ers. Kelce is expected to be out for six to eight weeks after surgery, so the tests will continue.

But Molk just wanted this chance. Now he has it and will live with it however it comes out. Just don't say he'll grow into the job.