Rookies on the move

LATROBE – Willie Colon remembers what line coach Russ Grimm told him the first day of training camp. "He told us we'd have to learn different positions," Colon said. "I didn't know it would be this early. But it's the NFL. You've got to catch the ball when it's thrown to you."

Willie Colon caught the ball when he lined up at right tackle. And because the Pittsburgh Steelers would love to have a swing tackle for the first time since Justin Strzelczyk, they did something they rarely do with rookies: They moved him to a second position.

The last draft pick to practice at two positions his rookie season was Verron Haynes back in 2002. He played fullback and tailback. This year the Steelers have two "swing" rookies, one on each side of the ball:

• Colon is being tested at left tackle for the first time in his life because he continues to adapt to each level and could become a valuable reserve on game day.

Lee Vickers is being shuffled from defensive line to linebacker and back to defensive line – yesterday – because he has no true position. Vickers was even considered as a tight end by some NFL teams – and cannot be ruled out of that position here. But the position the Steelers want to see him master is that of wedge-buster on kickoff coverage. He's a 285-pounder with raw technique but plenty of speed.

"You look at him and it's almost like looking in the mirror," Brett Keisel said. "The second I saw him walk into the locker room I thought, hmmm. Then the second I saw him run I was like, man, he reminds me of me."

Keisel moves into the starting lineup this season and won't be used any more on special teams. The Steelers hope Vickers can take his place and Keisel thinks he has the tools.

"I talked to him last night. He's swimming. His head's going crazy. He has to learn D-line, linebacker and all the special teams," Keisel said. "But that boy is fast. I honestly do think he's a little faster than I am. I told him he's going to make this team on special teams. They'll stick him out there where they had me and hopefully he can do the same things I did out there."

Vickers has the size and the speed. Keisel said "you also have to be a little crazy because you're running full speed into someone."

Is Vickers "a little crazy?"

"That remains to be seen," Keisel said.

Vickers was QB Philip Rivers's backup at Athens (Ala.) High School. Now starting for the San Diego Chargers, Rivers led Athens to the third round of the state tournament in 1999. Rivers and Vickers were both seniors. Vickers was a 185-pound cornerback.

"That was a hundred pounds ago," said the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Vickers. "He knows how big I am but he hasn't seen me in awhile. I think he'd be a little bit surprised because we were about the same size in high school."

Vickers went to college for baseball, quit, and came back as a football player at Northern Alabama, where he played several positions and never blossomed at any one of them. Saturday will be his first chance at a new position.

"I hope to go down there and bust that wedge up and show something," he said.

"It's a good job," said Keisel. "My role was to go down and smack the wedge and have at least two guys block me to free up our speedy guys."

Colon also has a chance Saturday to prove he can help the Steelers this year. He'll play both tackle spots at Arizona.

"It was one of Russ's rules, that you have to be able to play both sides if you're going to dress on Sunday, so he's working me in now," Colon said. "With Trai [Essex] out there's a sense of urgency for me to get the ball rolling a little bit faster than normal, but it's good so far."

Colon never played left tackle before this week. He was an MVP defensive lineman in high school and played only right tackle at Hofstra. The 6-3, 315-pound fourth-round pick has the size of a guard, but is playing well at tackle. He called his first experience at left tackle "weird, but it wasn't bad."

Does Colon think guard's also in his future?

"Oh, it's definitely in my future," he said. "If I can play tackle and guard it just makes my stock a little bit better. I've just got to be able to perform."

But it will take time, cautions starting right tackle Max Starks.

"The biggest thing when you move," said the former college left tackle, "No. 1, your footwork has changed, which pretty much throws your whole equilibrium off because you're so used to moving in a certain direction, and having to move the total opposite of that direction does take time."


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