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May 11, 2010

Spring position switches can pay off in fall

Spring football is a time for experimentation for some coaches, and sometimes those experiments pay off in the long run.

Here's a look at 12 teams that made key position changes during spring drills. Some are "routine" switches, such as going from guard to center. Other moves were a little more "dramatic," such as going from linebacker to wide receiver or tight end to defensive tackle.

A couple of caveats: The players involved had to be starters; we didn't consider tackle-to-guard (or guard-to-tackle) switches; we didn't consider redshirt freshmen; and we didn't list players who were injured and missed spring drills (though a couple of proposed changes involved injured players who would've made our list).

Here's the list, with the teams listed alphabetically.

Iowa State: Ben Lamaak (from guard to center)
BUZZ: Changing positions is nothing new for Lamaak, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior. He was a tight end in high school before he was moved to quarterback for the final six games of his senior season. He signed with Iowa State as a 225-pound tight end. He redshirted as a freshman, then was moved to tackle during spring practice before his redshirt freshman season. He proceeded to start for two seasons at tackle before moving to guard last season -- where he started every game -- and finally center this spring.
Kentucky: Chandler Burden (from defensive end to offensive tackle)
BUZZ: Burden played in every game, starting three, at defensive end last season; he had five tackles against Alabama. This spring, he switched sides of the line. Burden (6-4/296) came on strong late in spring drills and goes into fall practice vying with Billy Joe Murphy for the starting job at left tackle, which he hasn't played since he was a high school sophomore.
Louisville: Darius Ashley (from tailback to cornerback)
BUZZ: Ashley led the Cardinals in rushing last season, with 462 yards and four touchdowns. But a new coaching staff liked Ashley's playmaking abilities as a corner and moved him to defense. Ashley, a 5-8, 195-pound sophomore, had a solid spring and should start at cornerback this fall. Junior Victor Anderson is expected to start at tailback.
Notre Dame: Harrison Smith (from linebacker to strong safety)
BUZZ: Smith, a fourth-year junior, has bounced between safety and linebacker during his Irish career. After starting the final six games at outside linebacker last season, Smith (6-2/212) is expected to open this season as the Irish's starting strong safety. He'll be alongside free safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was a cornerback last season.
Penn State: Stefen Wisniewski (from center to guard)
BUZZ: Wisniewski, a senior, played guard his first two seasons before switching to center last season. He adapted well, being named first-team All-Big Ten. This spring, coaches decided to move him back to guard, and Wisniewski -- a 6-3, 297-pounder -- should again contend for all-league honors. Fifth-year senior Doug Klopacz is expected to start at center.
SMU: Patrick Fleming (from linebacker to wide receiver)
BUZZ: As a junior last season, Fleming (6-4/242) started six games at linebacker. He was switched to outside receiver this spring and is second on the depth chart for a Mustangs team that loves to throw the ball.
South Carolina: T.J. Johnson (from guard to center)
BUZZ: Johnson was a Freshman All-SEC selection last season at guard -- and he may have been the Gamecocks' best lineman. This spring, coaches moved him inside, where Johnson (6-5/305) has a chance to earn all-league honors. Center is his more natural position.
Stanford: Owen Marecic (from fullback to linebacker)
BUZZ: Marecic, a 6-1, 243-pound senior, helped clear the way for Toby Gerhart last season. This spring, coaches decided they'd rather have him stopping other teams' runners. Marecic heads into fall drills as one of the Cardinal's three starting linebackers.
Temple: Vaughn Charlton (from quarterback to tight end)
BUZZ: To say the Owls' passing attack was mediocre last season is being kind. Temple averaged 146.5 yards per game and its quarterbacks combined to throw 13 TDs, 14 picks and complete just 47.5 percent of their passes. This season, Charlton -- a 6-4, 248-pound senior -- will be on the receiving end of the passes after emerging from spring drills as the starting tight end. Charlton also is expected to be the Owls' long snapper.
Tulane: Shakiel Smith (from linebacker to free safety)
BUZZ: Smith made an impact at outside linebacker as a true freshman last season, finishing with 71 tackles. Smith, a 185-pounder, is moving to a more natural safety position this season and is expected to start for the Green Wave.
UCLA: Nate Chandler (from tight end to defensive tackle)
BUZZ: Defensive tackle was a position of need for the Bruins, so coaches moved Chandler -- who is 6-5 -- from tight end to the defensive interior. Chandler, a junior who had two career receptions, is up to 291 pounds and expected to start next to senior David Carter, giving the Bruins two 290-pound-plus tackles.
Wyoming: Gabe Knapton (from linebacker to defensive end)
BUZZ: The Cowboys are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set, and Knapton -- as well as fellow starting linebacker Josh Biezuns -- are making the switch to end. Knapton made 128 tackles and Biezuns 65 last season, and both are expected to start at end this fall.



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