Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Washington Redskins defense, never expects much from rookies.
Petitbon, who has started only two rookies (Darrell Green and Andre Collins) in the past decade, said, "Anything you get out of a rookie is a bonus."
By that definition, Bobby Wilson, a defensive lineman drafted on the first round in April, is giving the team a bonus this year.
In the first half of the season, Wilson got most of his action on the special teams and saw only spot duty on the line.
He got a sack, a quarterback hurry and a tackle against the Phoenix Cardinals, a sack against the Cincinnati Bengals, a quarterback hurry against the Chicago Bears and two quarterback hurries and a tackle against the Cleveland Browns.
Petitbon didn't expect much more.
"Rookies have to come in and adjust to the new surroundings and, really, to the people. You just don't have Joe Jacobys and Jim Lacheys blocking you at Michigan State, and everybody's pTC got those kind of guys [in the NFL]. It's an adjustment. You ask them to do more than they've done" in college, he said.
But in the past two games, Wilson has gotten more of an opportunity, and he's made the most of it.
Two weeks ago against the New York Giants, he was thrust into the game in the fourth quarter when Eric Williams suffered a neck injury. On his first play, he threw Rodney Hampton for a 6-yard loss on a third-and-one play that forced the Giants to punt.
Last week against the Houston Oilers' run-and-shoot offense, he played a lot in the team's three-man line with Charles Mann and Jumpy Geathers at the end spots. It was one of the new packages the Redskins used against the run-and-shoot and Wilson did well with two tackles and two assists.
"He did a good job," Petitbon said. "He's making real progress."
With the Redskins playing the Atlanta Falcons, another run-and-shoot team, this week, Wilson figures to be used again in the three-man front. He also could make his first start in the four-man alignment, since Williams aggravated his neck injury last week and hasn't practiced this week.
"Hopefully, I can get in there as much as I did last week," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Soft-spoken at 6 feet 2 and 276 pounds, Wilson said, "I'm starting to feel real comfortable with the program and playing in the pros."
Petitbon projects Wilson as a starter and said the Redskins were fortunate to get him, although they had had their eye on running back Leonard Russell before the New England Patriots grabbed him.
"They're [defensive linemen] are hard to come by. You can get lucky at some postions, but you [usually] have to be picking on the first round with those guys. There are some Richard Dents that pop up [Dent was an eighth-round choice of the Chicago Bears in 1983], but, by and large, the great players go high," Petitbon said.
LaVern Torgeson, the defensive line coach, also likes the way Wilson has played. He said it was easy for him to adjust to playing nose tackle in the three-man front because he played middle guard in college.
"He's doing the job and coming in and getting better every week," Torgeson said. "He's made some big plays for us."
An All-Big Ten selection at Michigan State last year, Wilson hopes to make the most of Sunday's opportunity against the Falcons.
"When I get my shot, I just get in there and play my best and try to make something happen," he said.
NOTES: QB Billy Joe Tolliver, obtained by the Falcons in a trade at the start of the year from the Chargers, has taken all the work for ailing Chris Miller in practice this week and figures to make his first start for the Falcons on Sunday. . . . Veteran Russ Grimm figures to start at left tackle for Lachey, but the Redskins still hope that Jacoby can start at the other tackle slot. Both suffered mild knee sprains last week.