There would be pressure on any player making his first NFL start, but there’s a little more on the line this Sunday for the Eagles’ David Molk and Matt Tobin. It’s not as if they’ll be lining up for the Jacksonville Jaguars and nobody cares. And it’s not like they’re lining up against the Jaguars, the worst team in the league. They’ll be taking on the San Francisco 49ers, who have been to three straight NFC Championship Games and have one of the most rugged defenses in the NFL.
Molk will start at center on Sunday in place of Jason Kelce (sports hernia) and, assuming his sore ankle is healed enough, Tobin will start at left guard, replacing Evan Mathis (knee).
“We’re being thrown right into the fire, but that’s OK,’’ Molk said. “I mean, that’s what we’re here for. You don’t like to see teammates and guys you like and respect get hurt, but we all know it’s part of this business and you just have to deal with it. And that’s what we plan to do. We want to keep this thing rolling and take it a long way.’’
Both players have already come a long way. Molk played at Michigan and was a seventh-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2012. He played in 12 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams, but was released on the final cut of training camp in 2013 and sat out the entire season before the Eagles signed him on Jan. 9.
Tobin had an even more humble beginning to his career, both in college and the NFL. He made the team at Iowa a walk-on and then made the Eagles’ roster in 2013 even though he wasn’t drafted. Tobin was deactivated for all but two games last season and only played in one, the season finale against Dallas when the Eagles sat all of their starters because the game didn’t mean anything.
So, defying the odds is nothing new for these guys, although they never had to do it under the spotlight like they will on Sunday.
“I think we both understand what this game means to us, personally and for the team’s sake,’’ Tobin said. “We’ve had to fight and scrape for everything we have and that’s what we’ll do on Sunday – fight and scrape.’’
Molk probably has the toughest adjustment, since the first time he ever played center in a game at any level was last week, when he replaced Kelce. Molk struggled at times against the Redskins’ pass rush, but played better late in the game and he said having an entire week of practice at center with the first team will make a difference on Sunday.
“He’s a competitor,’’ Eagles coach Chip Kelly said of Molk. “I think he’s extremely quick off the ball — he really gets into the defender very quickly. He’ll fight you. He’s a tough, competitive guy in there and he’ll scrap and give you everything he’s got. In the games he’s gotten in, whether it be at guard or at center, I think he’s really competed when he was out there.’’
As to the humble beginnings both players had to their NFL careers, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said it doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish.
“I can’t tell you why guys get here — We all get here in different ways,’’ Shurmur said. “We’ve seen frequently where guys that were not high picks or were free agents that have had outstanding careers, so none of that really matters.’’
Maybe it doesn’t matter to the coaches, but it does the matter to the two young players who had to overcome so much to just get a chance to prove themselves.
“I think it gives you a chip on your shoulder [not being drafted],’’ Tobin said. “I had to deal with that before [being a walk-on in college] and I know it means more to achieve something that you really had to earn, as opposed to having it just handed to you.
“But now we’re here and none of that matters anymore. All that matters now is how we perform, and that’s what we’ll find out on Sunday.’’