Coaches comfortable switching players' positions

JOHN MARSHALL AP College Football Writer Published:

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Walking around as his players stretched during practice, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer stopped to have a word with starting fullback Zach Boren.

"Hey, we're going to move you over because guys are limping," Meyer told the senior.

And with that, Boren, an offensive player his entire career at Ohio State, was the Buckeyes' starting middle linebacker against Indiana.

A move of desperation? Not exactly.

Boren was a star linebacker in high school, had been begging the coaches to play on defense and the Buckeyes were banged up at that position, so it seemed like a good fit.

And it's not like Meyer is the only one moving players around.

Coaches across the country have been swapping out players like chess pieces.

Not just offensive linemen swapping spots or a cornerback moving to safety, either. Players are being moved from one side of the ball to the other, going to positions they hadn't played since high school or at all.

Sometimes it's out of necessity, moves to fill holes created by a lack of depth or injuries.

Too much depth can also lead to changes, coaches wanting to give talented players buried on the depth chart a chance to get on the field.

Sometimes it's just a coach playing a hunch, experimenting with a player at a certain position to see if it'll work out.

"You have to project guys along the way," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "That's absolutely something you have to be able to do, in my opinion, in developing your program."

Kelly got his head-coaching start in Division II, where moving players around is just a part of the job as a coach with limited recruiting options tries to get the best players on the field.

Even at a high-profile program like Notre Dame, where luring the best recruits in the country isn't a problem, Kelly hasn't hesitated in switching players around, converting receivers Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley to defensive backs after injuries left the Irish thin in the secondary.

Todd Graham has a similar philosophy in his first year at Arizona State.

He got started coaching high school teams in Texas, so moving players around is sort of second nature for him.

But Graham also has had his hand forced a bit this season.

The Sun Devils, like most programs with a new coach, entered the season without a whole lot of depth, particularly on defense.

Looking to bolster his defense, Graham started experimenting with offensive players on that side of the ball, switching running back Deantre Lewis and several receivers to the secondary and running back James Morrison to defensive end.

"We do a lot of things that are different and not what everybody else does, and I kind of like that," Graham said. "I think probably being adaptive, that's what we are trying to do. We are trying to be adaptive, but it's a little bit of a necessity."

Just down Interstate 10, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has done some position switching of his own, moving at least eight players around to compensate for the Wildcats' lack of depth. He also has a two-way player in Taimi Tutogi, a fullback who has earned the nickname "Two-way Tutogi" after being asked to help Arizona's defensive line in passing situations.

Georgia has a two-way threat of its own.

Malcolm Mitchell started the season as a cornerback for the Bulldogs, but coach Mark Richt wanted to find more ways to get the dynamic sophomore onto the field, so he started having him play receiver, along with returning kicks.

Mitchell's role on offense increased as the season has progressed and he has now become a full-time receiver, catching nine passes for 103 yards in Georgia's 29-24 win over Kentucky last week.

"He's starting to become much more productive as a wide receiver and getting more opportunities and getting more comfortable," Richt said at practice this week. "So, I hope he continues to improve in all areas because he's a very talented guy."

Just like Ohio State's Boren.

He had been badgering the Buckeyes' coaches for a shot at playing on defense and got it against the Hoosiers on Oct. 13 after Etienne Sabino went down with a broken leg. Despite playing the position for the first time since high school and relying mostly on instincts instead of technique, he led Ohio State with eight tackles.

Boren started again against Purdue last weekend, getting five tackles in the Buckeyes' 29-22 overtime win.

"I've been on punt ever since I've been here, so I've gotten a couple of tackles that way," Boren said. "To hit people and to get off blockers and make tackles, it was fun. It brought me back to my high school days."

With so many coaches willing to switch positions around, a lot of players across the country know exactly what he's talking about.

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, and Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., contributed to this story.