Warren Is Freed To Feed As Offensive Tackle

The career benefits of moving from tight end to tackle should start showing soon. The personal benefits? Ohhhh, yes, Rufus Warren is already enjoying his liberation from counting calories to packing on pounds. "Late night dinners!" he proclaims proudly.

"When I was at tight end I tried to watch my weight, so I never ate past nine. Now it's two o'clock in the morning and I'm up cooking a four-course meal!"

The dining is indeed fine for Warren these days…and nights too. With his off-season switch of position the junior has been freed to feed. Instead of evaluating every fork-full so as to stay at a prescribed playing weight for tight end, he can clean his plate and re-fill it with a second helping. Or third for that matter.

It shows in his spring practice report weight of 295 official pounds…and he does look every ounce of that. Fortunately, it is all ‘good' weight. New Mississippi State strength coach Rick Court has seen to that. In the first two days of drills at his new position Warren appeared confidently conditioned to challenge for a place in the 2014 lineup.

In the current case, right tackle. The position opened-up by graduation of two-year starter Charles Siddoway. By no means is Warren guaranteed any depth chart status just from making the move; he began camp behind veteran Damien Robinson and redshirt Jake Thomas. Yet this is essentially a wide-open spring for that end of the line and regardless of class all candidates begin as equals.

Even the new guy in the mix, who for his first three falls at State has been playing the blocker/eligible receiver role at ‘big' tight end. Of course that's when his listed 265 pounds was considered big. Here he stands thirty pounds later putting a hand on the ground and taking entirely different sorts of ‘routes'.

Though, Warren says, this is not an entirely new identity. "I played tackle the sophomore year in high school. That's how long it's been! So I'm kind of familiar, but dealing with Coach Hevesy is a different experience. And it's not like high school!"

That's for certain. Five years in a whole ‘nother identity aren't easy to make up for in a couple of off-season months, or a whole spring for that matter. Warren knows he faces a pretty steep learning curve right now and this is not a league which forgives mistakes easily. It at all. So Warren has attacked this process where the first stage is, basically, finding out what you don't know.

"My technique for one. Just trying to learn how the offense steps, and how the offense talks to each other, how the offensive line talks to each other. So I'm looking up to old guys, guys that have been around Coach Hevesy for a while."

Guys like Blaine Clausell, Justin Senior, Robinson among the active Bulldogs. For that matter has gotten further instruction from former blockers, and not necessarily tackles. "I work with Pork Chop (Womack) here and there, and Tobias Smith. So while Coach Hevesy is making the main points I always have them beside me to just get me a closer view of what they're talking about."

Speaking of knowing… One thing Warren cannot claim is he didn't know what he was getting into by moving to tackle. Not so much in the technical sense, but his position coach. He knew he was getting the offensive staff's resident mad man. So he admits, he was forewarned.

Fortunately, "When I was at tight end me and Hevesy always joked and always went back-and-forth. So I was almost prepared to come to offensive tackle! He's a hard coach and I wasn't used to that coming to him, but now we have talks and sit in meetings together so I'm getting used to him. He's going to coach hard, we're going to have our fun and we're going to have our bad times. But overall he's a great coach."

And, this is a great opportunity for Warren. Now he did have a good gig going at tight end. Not so much statistically perhaps; he had one catch in 2013, a 23-yard gainer against Kentucky. But Warren was a useful blocking tight end in those sorts of situations. It just wasn't going to become a ‘feature' role in the way Coach Dan Mullen's spread offense was headed as smaller and faster tight ends were getting targeted.

So when the Bulldogs reported back to school in January, Mullen presented Warren with an option and an opportunity. And, "Coach Mullen gave me the opportunity to make my own decision," Warren clarifies. That's probably because blocking is something an athlete must truly want to do if it is to be done well, and forcing such a fit rarely works out. However, there is a history at State and other SEC programs of big tight ends becoming tackles or guards and their careers blossoming.

Besides, Warren recognized his chance to let something else ‘blossom' so to speak. He could go eat!

"Because if I stayed at tight end I was going to have to lose a couple of pounds and stuff like that. With it being the right tackle position was kind of open you know. So I talked to my parents about it. Next thing I know I'm telling him that I was moving, the next day. It was a move I wanted to make because I am bigger and it was going to be a struggle to keep my weight down."

That struggle is over, as two a.m. meals proves. And when talks of four-course meals Warren is serious, he really has a meal. "Oh yeah, I'm a pretty good cook. And my girlfriend is a wonderful cook too! So we battle it out every other night." And what exactly has Warren been liberated to enjoy most of all now?

"Chicken. A lot of chicken. When I was trying to maintain my weight it was more baked chicken. But now I can have fried chicken, which is delicious down here in the South!" Such a comment can only make many of his peer groan, or gripe, as they still have to count the calories. So far though Warren reports no dietary envy in the locker room.

Nor has he lost much agility, he adds. "I am heavier. It's a difference between running a 30-yard route and blocking somebody for ten yards downfield, so of course it's different! But overall I feel loose, now that I'm at tackle I can move the way I want to move and make blocks the way I want to block because I have put on this weight."

All well and good…but doesn't he have at least a little regret about losing eligible receiver status? That he can't touch the football, at least not intentionally, any more?

"Oh, I don't care about that. As long as we score. Last year I didn't care when I was at tight end. As long as we're scoring up in the end zone, I was in the end zone. Every time we scored, I was hyping the person who scored! So that's not a big deal and I have a role on the team. That's to protect Dak and protect everybody else."

That points up one other obvious difference to taking that one big step from tight end to tackle; he's given up running downfield, for learning how to run backwards or crab-across the front while holding a blocking stance. It seems a change for someone used to firing-off a few steps, but Warren dismisses the notion it's going to be tough.

"Like I was telling somebody else, the only difference is I'm not running a route; I'm protecting now. So it's pretty much the same as tight end but I don't have the ball no more."

No, he doesn't. But what Warren does have is a closer-scripted role and a wider-ranging diet, both of which are satisfying at this stage of his college career. So far, so good, he says.

"I'm just waiting to get pads on and see how it feels with that."

The Bulldogs do put on padding Friday for the first time, with a 3:15 scheduled practice.

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