"The coaches are now using me at the buck or inside linebacker position," said Te'o. "They basically want me to get some practice time in to learn that position, so for the past few days I've been learning what to do there."
"We are cross-training Shiloah Te'o primarily for spread offenses and passing situations," said Coach Tidwell. "We think he can come in and help us in nickel and dime situations, and so I don't think this is something that we are preparing for the near future and will be down the road a ways."
Coach Mendenhall has said in the past that he wants his top players on the field. However, the best player for the job could be determined on what the situation or position is. The buck or boundary side linebacker may not be required to cover as much space as a field linebacker, but the ability to cover in space is an important aspect of a defense that is linebacker-focused.
"They just need a better cover guy I guess," said Te'o. "That's basically why they've moved me to that position given the situation. They want more speed there depending on what's happening on the field, so they threw me in there [Tuesday] and I'm just learning day by day."
Te'o now has to attend film sessions and meetings with two different position coaches.
"Right now I'm studying both positions right now," said Te'o. "I'm with Coach Tidwell with the inside linebackers now, so I'm learning from him and Kelly Poppinga, who is also teaching me right now. Right now everyone is throwing all this information at me and I'm just trying to soak it up."
"There is a lot to learn going from one position to another," said Coach Tidwell. "There are similarities but there are also a lot of different nuances you have to learn. He is now coming to our meetings and is learning how to play at the inside position. He's also been spending time with some of our older players, so when I'm in meetings with our coaches he's in meetings with some of the other players going over some of the coverages. Our older guys do a great job in helping our younger guys."
It will take time to get a full grasp on the position and be able to play it comfortably. This is something both Te'o and Coach Tidwell fully understand.
"Right now I prefer playing strong safety because I'm more used to it," said Te'o with a laugh. "I'm just more familiar with playing strong safety because that's what I've been playing mostly. Now I'm learning this new position too, and I like it but I'm not as comfortable with it right now. It's not as fun when you have to think about what you're doing rather than when things come natural and you can just play football. I'll get it though. I just need more time learning the position. I'll do what is needed and anything to get on the field."
Though Te'o is currently being bombarded with information, he said he doesn't mind.
"I look at it as a complement," said Te'o. "That's kind of how I see it. I'm just grateful for the opportunities the coaches are giving me and see this as an opportunity."
"He's a player that has great ability," said Coach Tidwell. "With a little more time, I think he'll be someone that can help us at both positions."
Being groomed effectively means coaches are constantly emphasizing proper technique, which eventually develops muscle memory for their players. Being assignment-sound is a constant theme heard among the players and coaching staff, so when a player is asked to all of a sudden take on the demands of a different position, a conflict of technique can become a hurdle.
"When you play safety, you develop your technique where you're constantly backpedaling," said Te'o. "At the linebacker position you're not going through those motions. You have to go forward rather than backwards and that means learning different things. That was one thing that I'm not really used to right now."
As Coach Tidwell mentioned, the coaching staff is preparing to deal with spread offenses, and in Te'o they see a player that has the necessary physical tools to split time at different positions.
"You have to be a lot more physical at the buck linebacker position than at the cat," said Te'o. "I believe I can do that, so basically it's a position that requires you to be more physical. Basically what the coaches said to me was there were about six or seven teams in our conference that their offenses are based on the spread. They want to take out one of the linebackers and bring in an extra safety to play the buck position. So they need someone that is physical and can stop the run, and is also athletic enough to play the pass if the offense decides to throw the ball."
"We're trying to be proactive and look ahead," said Coach Tidwell. "We just want to make sure we as a defense are prepared and ready for certain offenses in the future."