For years, Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon heard the chatter about a position change. And, even though former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians repeatedly shot down the speculation, Colon knew someday he would be making the switch from right tackle to guard.
"I knew it was coming," Colon said. "You hear it enough, it's coming from somewhere."
Sure enough, after Arians was relieved of his duties and the team drafted highly regarded tackle prospect Mike Adams from Ohio State with their second pick last month, Colon received the phone call from new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Effective immediately, Colon was starting at left guard.
"[The speculation] was always that I was a good tackle; they just figured I'd be a great guard," said Colon, a fourth-round draft pick from Hofstra in 2006. "I was never against it. All I asked was that if it happened, it happened now and not in August. They honored that."
This is the first time Colon has played guard at any level. He was strictly a tackle in high school and college and for his first six seasons as a professional. Not only is Colon moving from the right side of the line to the left, where different footwork is involved, but guards have to possess a more complete knowledge of the offense.
Tackles usually block defensive ends by themselves, or with assists from tight ends or fullbacks. They don't have to know much about the intricacies of the line's interior play. As a guard, Colon must have an ability to read linebackers and safeties. He must know what his center and the other guard are doing on every play because they work together on combination blocks. He'll have to react much more quickly and make more split-second decisions because he is playing closer to the ball.
Colon was able to work out the kinks in the first week of organized team activities last week. After each practice, he put in extra work with veteran lineman Trai Essex, who has played tackle, guard and center in the league over the past eight years.
"Physically, it won't be a problem," Essex said of Colon. "He already is a road-grader. That's his forte. That's who he is.
"The mental part will be challenging. This is a crucial time for him, and he's taking advantage of it. When he knows what he's doing, he moves anyone out of there. He'll be an asset to our offensive line at guard."
Colon also has been leaning heavily on All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey.
"Pouncey is a genius when it comes to the Xs and Os," Colon said. "Obviously, he's a stud on the field. I try to learn from him as fast as I can. He'll tell me different things on and off the field to help me pick it up faster. It's all about jelling. This is what OTAs are all about.
"When August comes, we're not having this conversation. We're just hitting the ground running. It's a great time for us to learn and get better."
Colon hasn't played much in recent seasons. He injured a triceps in the opener against Baltimore last year and was placed on injured reserve. In '10, he missed the entire season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Here's how much has changed in that time: The last time he played a full season, he was the young guy on a veteran line. Now. he'll be the elder statesman on a young line loaded with high draft picks.
Pouncey is entering his third season. First-round pick David DeCastro is expected to nail down the starting job at right guard in training camp. Marcus Gilbert is entering his second season after becoming the starting right tackle last season, and Adams is the likely starter at left tackle, unless Essex beats him out.
"I'm not a fan of what could be or potential," Colon said. "We have to be able to jell together and work together and do what we have to do to be a great line. We obviously have the potential, but, if we don't get it done, it doesn't mean anything."Steelers
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.