"Coach Mendenhall came and got me out of the offensive line meeting this morning and asked me if I would be willing to give it a shot at playing nose tackle," said 6-foot-3-inch, 273-pound freshman Garrett Reden. "They're going to give me ‘til Wednesday to assess my performance to see if I have what it takes to do it. I guess until Wednesday I'll be wearing a white jersey and playing on the defensive line. After that I hope I can fulfill a role and get a chance to contribute as best I can by getting on the field to help the team any way I can."
Although he is more familiar with playing on the offensive line, Reden is fine with making the jump onto a squad he once considered teammate nemeses.
"I'm fine with it and just want to play as much as I can," Reden said. "I don't mind if it's on offense or defense or even special teams. I just want the chance to play and I've already been teased during our 1-on-1s by some of the guys about making the switch over to the defensive side of the ball. But you know, I would definitely make the switch if I knew there was a chance I could get on the field. They all know what this is about, that I'm here to help the team. I'm just hoping I'm not a hindrance over there on the defense."
College coaches recruit athletes to fit specific positions based on how well they are able to perform certain physical abilities. Coaches mold the specific physical qualities that they've deemed are suited for the position. This is why it is rare for a lineman to be switched from the offense to the defense, and visa versa.
"I don't know if it's so much my quick twitch off the line," said Reden while chuckling. "I've always kind of wanted to play on defense and I think it's more my aggressive mentality than anything. The offensive line is a little less glorious, you know. I've always thought it would be cool to be able to hear your name over the loud speaker during a game. Today I got my first opportunity and it didn't go as well as I wanted it to."
"We're trying to find one more body and to see if we can keep him there," said Coach Kaufusi. "We're looking to see if he can help us, so today we're taking a look to see how his get-off is and how his reaction is. We're seeing if he can get a feel for it to see how he looks. We looked at his body-type and there were guys that were a lot bigger than he is. He looked like he was a little leaner than some of the others and ran around pretty good and had good footwork."
Playing the position is almost an entirely new experience for Reden. The only experience the big offensive lineman has on defense came while he was playing football at Valley Center High School in California.
"I think I only played maybe two downs [on defense] all though high school," Reden said. "Our high school coach wanted an offensive set and a defensive set and I was more of the offensive lineman type, so I never really played on the defensive line [except for] maybe two plays."
"The biggest thing for him is going to be learning the calls and getting the execution down," said Coach Kaufusi. "That's the biggest thing he'll learn right now. We see if his pad level is low and how he uses his hands and if he's getting off the blocks. Those are the kinds of things we'll see. We'll see if he's a fast twitch guy, and I think he'll be competitive like Romney [Fuga] was for us last year if he is able to get a few things down."
Reden is now focusing on making the adjustments and learning the position as quickly as possible.
"I think the biggest adjustments is getting used to the speed, knowing where you're supposed to go and trying to read their blocks," said Reden. "Today I was pretty much just guessing out there and knew some of the calls they made at the line, so I kind of knew some of the plays as was able to guess that way. I want to get more of the feel of the guys down blocking on me and know how to step from that and know where to go. Those have been some of the bigger things I'm trying to get used to.
"Today I just mainly focused on where to line up and the guys on the d-line really helped me with that. They would tell me to move here or over there a little bit. Coach Kaufusi would also point me to where I needed to go. I have to know where I need to go, but also where [guys are] going to block me from. They're going to see how fast I can pick it up. Coach Mendenhall will definitely know if I can play that position because he's such a great coach. He'll know quickly if I can hang there or not."
"To me, not every guy can play on the defensive line," Kaufusi said. "[Reden is] versatile and you would have to be versatile in order to do that. I think there are a couple of guys on the offensive side that maybe could do that, but Coach Mendenhall feels that he's aggressive enough to maybe take a look at him. We'll take a look at the film to see how he moves around and if he has a feel for it."