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The Challenge Of Changing Positions

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Antrel Rolle moved from cornerback to free safety before the 2008 season.

Maybe it's a way for a guy to get on the field, or a way to get all the best players in on one package. Or maybe it's just a way to stick on the roster.

Changing positions can make the learning curve in the NFL that much more steep. But sometimes, it's necessary.

"Having to move positions (on the NFL level) makes it more difficult," said Cardinals free safety Antrel Rolle, who shifted from cornerback before the 2008 season. "But as a professional, you're probably best off not to even think about it and just make the best transition you can."

This year, it's rookies Cody Brown and Will Davis making the change. They were defensive ends in college; with the Cards, they are learning linebacker in the team's 3-4 defensive scheme. Last year, it was Rolle who made the move, once he realized as a cornerback he wasn't going to beat out Eric Green, Rod Hood and then-rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Such scenarios aren't new for the Cardinals. Once upon a time, Roy Green – who eventually emerged as one of the best wide receivers in franchise history – came into the league as a cornerback. Recently, Fred Wakefield came into the league as a defensive end, moved to offensive tackle and finally finished his time in Arizona as a tight end.

Whoever ends up making a change, "it takes time," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

"Athletically, they can do it, mentally they can do it" Whisenhunt added, "but the thing they need the most is time and reps."

Getting repetitions in practice isn't always easy for rookies like Brown and Davis. There's a reason defensive coordinator Bill Davis believes it takes players at least a year to make the transition from college end to pro linebacker. Will Davis and Brown both admit they feel fortunate they are making the move together, to lean on each other as they deal with the ups and downs of the move.

"There is a lot of head-spinning out there," Will Davis said.

Brown isn't concerned about the move, saying he had practiced drops into coverage into college, even if he rarely did it in a game. Will Davis actually came to the University of Illinois as a wide receiver before being switched to defense so he doesn't worry about learning to play standing up yet again.

Rolle makes it clear it was his choice to make his move, although it was likely done out of career preservation. Rolle could have stayed a cornerback but he knew he would be used as a nickel corner. When the coaching staff talked about having the best four players on the field, Rolle felt he was in that top four, and was willing to move to prove it.

Rolle, who many said would eventually play safety in the NFL when he was drafted, said a change didn't bother him. That didn't make it easy.

"This time last year, I was just running around like a chicken with his head cut off," Rolle said. "Now, I know exactly what to look for, I know my reads, I know my keys and it's been a smooth transition."

Embracing the move may be the most important aspect of all.

"No matter what, coaches try to do what's best for the team," Rolle said. "Whether you want to accept it or not, that's what it is. If you are an athlete, you just do the best you can."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 7/13/09.

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