Switching Positions Nothing New For Blackmon

100524blackmon215.jpg



Will Blackmon has changed positions before. Back at Boston College, after three years playing cornerback, Blackmon became a full-time wide receiver before returning to defense in the pros.

His latest move, from cornerback to safety for the Packers, isn't nearly as dramatic as switching sides of the ball. But having gone through the mental gymnastics of seeing the game and playing it from an entirely different perspective once before, Blackmon is perhaps less phased about the new move than others in his situation might be.

"The bottom line is I'm a football player, so I just need to hone in and study and be real cerebral with it," Blackmon said. "I think that will bring a lot to this team."

Blackmon, who is also in the team's plans as a return man (with three punt returns for TDs in 2007-08), will have plenty of time to manage the cerebral part. Still rehabilitating his knee following the ACL injury that ended his 2009 season in Week 4, Blackmon is not expected to participate in the team's OTAs and mini-camp over the next month. So all he can do football-wise is the film work and studying needed for his new position, plus watching some of the drills on the practice field.

He said he remains on schedule for an on-field return at the start of training camp, when he'll finally get to apply all the mental preparation and see where he stands. The team's top four safeties at the moment are Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, rookie Morgan Burnett and Derrick Martin, another converted cornerback who is also recovering from an injury and not currently practicing.

By the numbers, the Packers simply have more cornerbacks than safeties heading into 2010, so it makes sense to take an all-around athlete with the ball skills and requisite size (6-foot, 206 pounds) and see if he can have an impact at safety. Plus he has enough experience at cornerback to fill in if the need ever arises.

"How far he develops is going to depend a lot on him, because he's going to be smart enough to learn it," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "The challenge for him will be to learn the nuances that come along with playing the position."

Those nuances include expanding his vision to encompass the entire field, rather than focusing on one receiver or a portion of the field the way cornerbacks do. He'll also need to take on communication responsibilities, making calls and checks for the entire defense as opposed to listening and reacting to them coming from someone else.

"Now you're the quarterback of the defense, so people are relying on you moreso in terms of getting everybody else lined up," Blackmon said. "That's the biggest adjustment."

The physical part is different, too. Safeties are called on more than corners for run support, and need to take on blocks and make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage.

Blackmon's track record as a tackler - he led the team with 18 coverage stops on punt and kickoff returns in 2008 - is another indication he's potentially well-suited for his new spot. But he'll have to show he can be relied upon to tackle in traffic as well as in the open field, and combine all that with his known ability to play the ball in pass coverage.

"Anytime you can get a corner and convert him to safety, you're picking up some coverage ability that those guys bring naturally," Perry said. "Now, the other part is going to be a work in progress and that can take some time.

{sportsad300}"You can tell when guys aren't comfortable being as close to the line of scrimmage. There's a lot more action going on up in there, you don't have as much time to react, you have to make a quick decision and you have to make the right decision. Because whether it's a missed tackle or a poor angle, you are sometimes the last line of defense, and you have to be flawless in your work."

Blackmon said he can't be sure where this will lead for him once training camp begins. He doesn't see himself as strictly a safety now, but just a defensive back in general who's learning more of the defense and expanding his skills. When healthy, he has played the nickel and dime spots at corner, most extensively in 2008.

The bottom line is the 2006 fourth-round draft choice is willing to do whatever it takes to play. Part of that mentality comes from the frustrations with injuries that have sidelined him for 32 of a possible 64 regular-season games in his career. But it also reflects the confidence he has in his all-around athleticism, which allowed him to make a more significant change in college and remain a high-impact player.

Any player like Blackmon entering his fifth year in the NFL would prefer to have his position set and his role defined by now. That hasn't happened, for a number of reasons, but rather than get discouraged, Blackmon is simply taking his next opportunity and planning to run with it, especially when he's back to full speed again this summer.

"I just want to be on the field, I don't care where it is," he said. "I'm excited to learn everything, and it's just going to add value to what I can do. I'm very excited. If I'm on the field, that's all that matters to me."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content

Advertising