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Versatility pays off for linebackers

Posted Mar 22, 2013

In addition to being considered top linebacker prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, Georgia's Alec Ogletree, Oregon's Dion Jordan, Rutgers' Khaseem Greene and Southern Mississippi's Jamie Collins share something in common.

They all underwent significant position changes at the start of their college careers.

Ogletree, Greene and Collins once played defensive back at their respective schools. Ogletree and Greene became linebackers, and Collins moved all the way to defensive end in college. 

Jordan, meanwhile, started out on the other side of the ball. Oddly enough, he came to Oregon as a wide receiver.

"I imagined myself running down the field, catching the ball from (quarterbacks) Darron Thomas or Marcus Mariota, but things didn't work out that way," Jordan said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "You've got to adjust. I adjusted and I took the opportunity and ran with it."

The three defensive backs-turned potential NFL linebackers could all say the same. They learned to embrace the challenge of switching positions and used it to propel their careers.

But Greene admits the shift was difficult to accept at first.

"I was kind of selfish because I really liked playing safety, so I was iffy about it," Greene said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "But we came to an agreement. Coach told me to try it for a week. And after the second day I fell in love with it.

"It was a blessing in disguise for me to play linebacker in college."

With offenses constantly becoming more explosive, defenses have countered by trying to increase the speed and athleticism on their side of the ball. That goal made bigger safeties like Ogletree and Greene intriguing fits at linebacker.

"I try to use my speed to my advantage," Ogletree said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I like to play sideline to sideline. When I can strike somebody, I do that."

Oregon, with Jordan, went so far as putting a wideout on defense to increase the unit's speed. And Jordan carried more than just speed to the defensive side, also bringing some of his offensive mindset with him in addition to his rare size (6-foot-7) and physical gifts.

"I understand defenses because I played on the offensive side of the ball," Jordan said. "I understand a lot of the offensive schemes, also. So it plays to my abilities, just understanding a lot of little things and just my size – a 6-7 outside linebacker is kind of unique."

Changing positions has been a successful career path, evidenced by the Carolina Panthers' own Thomas Davis, who played safety at Georgia before moving to linebacker and excelling at the professional level.

Said Greene: "I don't know where I'd be right now if I stayed at safety. I don't know if the opportunity to contribute in the way that I did at Rutgers would have come about. But I'm definitely blessed and I'm glad Coach (Greg) Schiano saw something in me that I didn't see in myself and made the switch."

The willingness and ability to adjust is a characteristic that will serve these prospects well as they begin their NFL careers.

Jordan may play linebacker or defensive end, depending on which team drafts him. Collins projects to linebacker at the next level, a position he didn't play in college.

But their track records suggest they are not only ready to adjust but capable of thriving in whatever role the coaching staff sees fit. 

"Teams ask me what scheme I play in and then they ask me if I can play in this, or do I see myself playing inside?" Greene said. "I see myself doing whatever a team wants me to do."