At last, Steelers place Colon on guard duty
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Reality finally caught up with long-running speculation when, after six years playing offensive tackle amid opinions he'd make the perfect offensive guard, Willie Colon finds himself at left guard in training camp.
And he's happy about it, which might surprise those who saw him bristle at the mere mention in previous years that he would make a better guard than tackle. Ben Roethlisberger and former coordinator Bruce Arians even resorted to joking about it.
They would torture Colon, telling him "You're going to play guard; you're going to play guard."
"He never wanted to do it," Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers did not move him until this spring simply because they had more guards than tackles. They needed him at right tackle, where, at 6 feet 3, he was undersized but more than held his own in three seasons as a starter before injuries wiped out all but one game of the past two seasons.
But, as new coordinator Todd Haley noted the other day, Colon was born to play guard and, feeling they have enough tackles with the addition of second-round pick Mike Adams and the success of Marcus Gilbert last year, the coaching staff switched him. They did so long before they took the field in the spring, giving Colon enough time to make the transition.
The early returns from training camp show the move to be a good one.
"Moving Willie to guard, I think, is great because he's just a mauler in there, he's so physical," Roethlisberger said. "You put him in a phone booth, and he's just and animal."
His performance at left guard through the first week of practices has been nothing short of sensational and he got off with a bang. In the first practice in pads Saturday, he flattened linebacker Lawrence Timmons, a block that prompted a brief scuffle on the ground.
"Oh my God. He's a dog, man," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "He's a big dude in there, man -- a monster in there, actually."
The Steelers list him at 315. Colon says he weighs 345, same as last season only leaner this year after working out twice daily in the offseason for the first time.
"I was never really against the change," Colon protested during a lunch break at training camp. "I just wanted to have a fair shot to really work at it and really make it mine. I've been in this business long enough to see guys play tackle forever and the second week of camp, 'We want you to be a guard.'
"It's a hard transition, you have to be able to really have the time to get it, get it in your head and own it. They respected that request of mine, and I'm just taking it slowly."
Others see a rather fast transition, like Larry Foote, who has had to try to fend of Colon's blocks at inside linebacker.
"I'm getting acquainted with him early in camp at guard," Foote said. "We've been having a couple of run-ins. He looks good at it. Real strong. Ask guys abut him, and the first thing they'll say is once he gets his hands on you, he's going to get you. That's what you need at guard."
Count 6-8 Max Starks among those who thought Colon would be a good fit at guard as soon as he saw him.
"When he came in as a rookie. I thought he would be an exceptional guard when he got the opportunity, and now, six years later, he's getting the opportunity; he looks really good, really strong," Starks said.
So what makes Colon a better fit at guard than tackle?
"He has one of those bodies," Starks said. "He's a big, strong solid dude, very powerful, very explosive. That's all the things you want in an exceptional guard."
"He's strong, got really good, strong hands," said Foote. "He's a good athlete, that's why he played tackle for so many years, but his body structure fits the mold of a guard."
Instead of blocking sleeker, often quicker pass-rushing ends and outside linebackers, Colon will go against bigger tackles and try at times to get to the next line to block inside linebackers.
"It will be interesting to see him in the middle, banging it out with [Baltimore's Haloti] Ngata and those types of guys," Foote said.
Roethlisberger believes he knows the result.
"I told him this before and I hope it comes true, I think he can be a Pro Bowl guard. I really do. He has all the potential to do it."
First Published August 3, 2012 12:00 am