Countdown to Blue-White / 13 Days: What Should Be Expected of Players Who Changed Positions?
Bill Belton came to Penn State as a slot receiver, but two years later, the rising junior finds himself playing running back, firmly entrenched in a spring competition for carries.
Belton might be the most high-profile player to have his position changed, but he is far from the only one since the Bill O’Brien era began. There are at least nine documented position switches and arguably more on the way as the staff tries to maximize talent and versatility on a somewhat unbalanced, short on depth roster given scholarship limitations from July’s sanctions.
What type of results have these personnel moves yielded so far, and more importantly, what could it mean going forward? Let’s take a look.
- Dakota Royer — Royer’s position switch from defense to offense never really got off the ground. After being converted from a linebacker to a tight end last spring, the former 4-star prospect left the program in August, choosing to remain at Penn State as just a student while retaining his athletic scholarship due to a clause in the NCAA sanctions. Given the talent and depth at tight end, it is unlikely Royer would have seen much action last fall.
- Curtis Drake — The former wide receiver was converted to cornerback last spring to assist with razor thin depth in the secondary. The switch lasted shorter than Royer’s as Drake would have been academically ineligible for the 2012 season. On the same day that he announced a starting quarterback last June, O’Brien said that Drake would no longer be with the team.
- Bill Belton — The staff switched Belton from a wide receiver to a running back last spring with O’Brien citing “body type” and “skill set” as the main reasons. While Belton had a tough year with injuries and losing his starting job to Zach Zwinak, he will be in the mix for carries entering his second season at running back.
- Paul Jones — If there is one more discussed than Belton, it is certainly Jones’ change from quarterback to wide receiver/tight end after last season’s Virginia game. It lasted two and a half weeks and produced one catch as the once highly-touted recruit left the team to pursue his dream of playing quarterback elsewhere. This one would have been interesting to watch unfold. Jones’ size and athleticism could have given him some role in the offense, but he never embraced the change to see how it would have developed.
- Kyle Baublitz — The junior defensive tackle quietly switched from defensive end last summer. While not a big change, Baublitz has been having an excellent spring according to several of his teammates and is in the running to start next to senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones this fall.
- Nate Cadogan — The former offensive tackle and tight end is now a defensive tackle this spring. Given the progress of Baublitz and the potential of a few redshirt freshmen, it will be difficult for him to see a ton of action, but he will have more of an opportunity here than on offense.
- Garry Gilliam — The former tight was made into an offensive tackle this offseason with the transformation highlighted by putting on an additional 28 pounds. It is tough to imagine Gilliam as a starter this fall. The unit returns three of five starters from last season, and Adam Gress looks to have an inside track on the right tackle spot, but the move made sense given Gilliam’s blocking ability and the plethora of tight ends. If not this year, it could pay dividends in 2014 when Gilliam is a sixth-year senior.
- Trevor Williams — Williams is now wearing number 33 and playing safety, a change from last year when the then wide receiver wore 21. He showed some promise as a true freshman, hauling in 10 receptions, but this move appears to be another depth one that will give defensive coordinator John Butler more bodies and flexibility in nickel and dime packages.
- Malik Golden — The redshirt freshman is now practicing as a safety after being listed as a wide receiver last year. Golden played both ways in high school, so the transition should be smooth for him. “He’s a guy that’s very talented,” said safeties coach Anthony Midget last week when discussing Golden’s progress.
Three of these nine players are no longer with the program, but aside from Jones, that was more influenced by outside factors than the actual position change. There is a decent chance none of the other six will start. On the surface, these personnel moves have not yet produced desired results, but that won’t stop moves from being made as the coaches hope to get more out of these decisions in 2013.
“Certainly there are other moves that may be made because we are going to try to do what’s best for the football team,” said O’Brien during his spring press conference. “If we think a guy can help us on defense and maybe still play offense, because of the numbers we have… we’ll certainly look at doing that as the spring goes along.”
This is the 21st in a 33-day series about Penn State football program leading up to the Blue-White Game on April 20. Click here for past installments in the series.