Come What May, Redskins Know Pucillo Will Be Ready If Needed

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007

At some point in the coming days, newly acquired veteran Pete Kendall will step into the starting left guard position for the Redskins, and Mike Pucillo will return to his role as a backup. But the journeyman guard hopes that his two-game stint as a starter reminded the Redskins of what he can bring to them.

"I needed to show them that I can handle it, that they have confidence in me, and I'm a more valuable person to have on the team," Pucillo said. "Everybody's got to prove their worth. It's my opportunity, my chance to show them that I belong here."

Pucillo, 28, wasn't expected to compete for the starting left guard spot when former starter Derrick Dockery left as a free agent during the offseason. But he got his chance after Todd Wade, whom the Redskins were trying to convert from tackle to guard, struggled and injured his shoulder in the preseason opener.

In two starts against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Pucillo was solid, though he was involved in the pass protection failure on the play on which quarterback Jason Campbell injured his knee against the Steelers. But Pucillo showed that he can capably fill in there if Kendall gets injured.

The Redskins already knew that Pucillo was experienced and versatile. The year before he came to Washington, Pucillo started six games at three positions -- center and both guard spots -- during an eight-game stretch with the Cleveland Browns.

"We love him," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said earlier this month. "He's one of us. He's one of our hardest workers, he's blue collar all the way. He does everything we could ask him to do."

Last season, that meant playing almost exclusively as the tackle eligible in the Redskins' jumbo package. Pucillo also filled in at center against Philadelphia in December when starter Casey Rabach left the game with a broken hand.

"Hats off to him because he's really worked hard at being able to master and wear many hats in this offense," Rabach said two days before Pucillo started against the Steelers. "He's the kind of guy that's real smart and knows what's going on, and the other guys on the line, we've got a real good feel for him."

The Buffalo Bills made Pucillo a seventh-round pick (215th overall) in the 2002 draft, and since then, he has carved out a career as a sort of utility lineman, able to fill in at both guard positions as well as center. He realized early in his career that being versatile would be his ticket to staying in the NFL, as well as making sure that he was active on game days.

"Coming into the league, I know that you only dress seven offensive linemen [for games]. You have five starters and you usually have two backups. To be a backup, you have to be able to play more than one position," Pucillo said. "Until I do get the opportunity to start, I realize that to make the team, I'm going to have to be versatile.

"It's just a real important thing. You know, if you can only play one position, you better be real good at that one position. Or else they're going to find someone else that can do more things."

At Auburn, Pucillo played right guard for four seasons, and then started at that position for Buffalo for the first 11 games of the 2003 season. That offseason, the Bills cut eight-time Pro Bowl left guard Ruben Brown and Pucillo was part of a three-man competition to win the starting spot. He appeared to have the edge heading into training camp, but poor performances in the preseason cost him the job. Pucillo played in just two games in the 2004 season and was inactive for 10. He left for Cleveland the following year and then went to the Redskins in 2006 to provide depth on the line.

Pucillo is used to having to prepare for multiple positions. He doesn't have to change the way he watches film when he switches positions, because his focus is still on the interior players in the defensive front. But different techniques are used at guard and at center, so he needs to make sure he gets reps at both positions so he doesn't get rusty; against the Steelers, he played the entire first half at left guard, and then moved to center for the first series of the third quarter. Overall, his experience at center helps.

"To play center, you're basically the quarterback on the offensive line. You've got to go up there and make the calls and set up the blocking scheme," Pucillo said. "You really have to know the offense as a whole. . . . Playing center helps you playing the other positions so when you move to guard, you're still a center going up there. You anticipate what the blocks are going to be before they need to be called."

Pucillo also plays on special teams, so he stayed on the field following a recent practice in order to catch balls that were shot high in the air out of a jugs machine. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Pucillo looked a little out of place amid the wide receivers and tight ends. He dropped the first kick, bobbled and caught the second, and then cleanly caught the third.

"Us linemen ain't too good at that," said Pucillo, as he held up his heavily taped hands. "That's why we don't catch."

But he does it because it's yet another thing he can do to help the Redskins.

"Mike Pucillo is probably as hard a worker as I've ever coached," Gibbs said during training camp. "I don't know of anybody that could be more prepared and has given it more of an effort than Mike and I think he's gained tremendous respect from his teammates because of that and all the coaches. We think a lot of him. He never says a word, it's always just, 'What do you want me to do?' "

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