Tatum made his name in high school at defensive end, but even as he was being named to prep all-star teams plenty of college scouts were talking about his potential on offense. His height (6-7), long arms and relatively slender lower body seemed ideal for offensive tackle, but frankly Tatum resisted the idea. He spent his first two college seasons at defensive tackle, seeing spot duty there as a back-up last year.
But a one-on-one conversation with Mike Shula prior to the start of spring drills changed his mind. Shula told him honestly that he had starting potential on offense, which was good enough for Tatum.
So far at least, Tatum is happy with the move.
"I've got a positive attitude, no doubt," he told BamaMag.com in a recent interview. "The coaches are telling me that I'm catching on real quick. They're pleased with everything I'm doing."
Athleticism is not the problem. Tatum's agility and strength levels are both very good for his present assignment, but learning the new schemes requires work.
He explained, "The challenge is staying mentally focused, just keeping my mind on my assignments. You want to get to where it's second-nature to me. That way you can go out there and not think, just blow folks off the ball. Right now I'm learning and trying to stay with it."
Mike Shula is happy with the move. "Every day we're feeling more comfortable with what Kyle is doing," Shula said.
Some might suggest that Tatum wasted his first two seasons working on defense, but Tatum doesn't see it that way at all.
"My time on defense was definitely a plus," he explained. "I can read (the defensive linemen) and what they're doing. I played with them for two years, so half the time I know what they're doing. Sometimes they can surprise me. But to have that defensive mentality (on offense) with that aggressiveness, it's definitely a positive."
Tatum's coaches are pleased with his progress, but he admits that often he goes up to the line of scrimmage thinking about which way he should step, rather than just exploding off the ball.
"That's definitely a focus," Tatum acknowledged. "That goes back to what I just said about making it second-nature in your brain. When you hear a play, you want to just go out there and do it. I'm thinking right now, which causes a little slow reaction. But I'm going to get it down. We're installing our offense a little bit slower for me and (Taylor Britt) and folks that are playing new positions. We'll pick up the pace.
"Playing offense at first will be a lot more difficult, but it ain't nothing I can't handle."
Tatum's position coach Bobby Connelly likes what he's seen.
"His first several days have gone very well," Connelly commented. "We're trying to get past the thinking stage so Kyle can just go out and play. He's pretty close. He's absorbing the offense and the terminology."
Coach Shula has said that right now as much as anything else he is watching the players in their one-on-one match-ups. Fine-tuning the unit's chemistry can come later. Right now Shula wants to make sure he identifies his top athletes and puts them in starting positions.
So how is Tatum doing in those mano-a-mano showdowns?
"I feel like I'm doing good," Tatum replied. "I'm going against mainly Todd Bates and Chris Harris (in practice). They're lighter guys than me, and they've got some fire under their butts. They're working me hard, but we're all working together. I feel like I'm doing good."
As an offensive tackle, Tatum has to worry about dealing with speed rushers looking to blast his quarterback on passing downs.
"You've got guys coming off the edge, trying to fire by you," he explained. "You've got to key in on them, key in on their feet to see what they're doing. Defensive ends are lightning quick, so you've got to keep your eyes on them."
Coach Connelly is actually working to dial back Tatum's aggressiveness a hair in the passing game.
He explained, "With any defensive player moving over (to the offensive line) you would expect certain things. Right now Kyle is a little aggressive in the passing game. We've got to slow him down a little bit there."
Because of the nature of the game and what the two positions are asked to do, the average defensive lineman is faster and more agile than his offensive counterpart. But as a former D-Lineman himself, Tatum can hold his own.
"My agility is obviously an asset for me," Tatum said. "It helps out to have quick feet at offensive tackle. That's one reason (the coaches) wanted me to make the move. They know I've got good footwork. If I gain a little weight this summer, I'm going to be fine."
Perhaps surprisingly, Tatum doesn't think he'll have a problem putting on the few extra pounds before August.
He explained, "I weigh right at 285 pounds now, maybe somewhere a little over. I want to get around 295 or 300 (by fall). Some fans think offensive linemen have to be 330 pounds or more, but if you take a look at guys in the NFL, those guys are my height, but they're just tipping 300. The pros don't want this big slow guy. They want guys that are athletic but lean.
"The idea is to get the mass up around 300 pounds, but keep your good footwork."
Technique is key to any lineman's success, and that's especially true on the offensive line where athletes must use their hands properly.
"I'd say that maybe your hands are more important than even your feet," Tatum said. "It balances out, but you definitely have to have a great punch. You can't lunge forward. You've got to stay low and balanced and use your punch to get the defender separated. Don't let him make the play."
A lot of things have got to work out right for Bama to have a good season next year, not least of which is Tatum's successful adjustment to right tackle.
"After the first two weeks, I'm still very positive," Tatum said. "Definitely."
As for Connelly, "overall I'm really excited," he said. "I think Kyle has got a huge upside. He's going to be a great addition to the offensive line, and we're excited to have him."