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Versatility is Key for Building Today's Offensive Line

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Listening to every single offensive lineman interviewed -- either personally one-on-one or at a large press conference -- it's clear that one thing is en vogue right now along the front five: versatility.

I distinctly heard the quote "hey, you can only travel with 7" at three different times -- referring to the fact that NFL teams will only take seven guys on the active roster. I'm not sure that's always the case, but the point was nevertheless quite clear. Teams are looking more and more for guys who can provide help and value at multiple slots along the line, so a guy's experience and ability to line up at multiple positions will move him up the draft board.

From mid-round guys like Baylor center J.D. Walton to possible first-rounders like Rutgers OT Anthony Davis, each player seemed to include his ability to play other than his primary spot. Davis mentioned previous experience playing the right side. Walton says he can play guard, noting "I have to be flexible and play every position." UMass project Vladimir Ducasse notes, "Right now they have me listed as offensive tackle. Left side, right side, I can play any position on the line."

Jeff Byers, the USC center, knew it was important enough of a trait to state his own versatility as a strength: "I think I'm definitely a center first, then a guard, definitely a swing guy, though, no question. I can play all three interior positions and that's valuable. I'll go wherever they want me." John Jerry, OL from Ole Miss, noted he could play right guard or right tackle. And Matt Tennant, Boston College's three-year starter at center, explained, "I took some reps at the Senior Bowl at guard. You just try to show some flexibility. It’s important if you can play center, guard, maybe even some tackle. I think I can play in space like that."

You can feel the same sentiment creeping in at the pro level. Even here at AP, we've discussed the coaching staff's observation that Brian Waters could play center. We celebrate the versatility of a fill-in like Wade Smith. We discuss the pros and cons of moving a high round pick like Branden Albert.

It's the continuing evolution of the NFL, where teams continue to move away from static and set positions to a complicated system of schemes that best feature the most talented players. The days of a one-back system are mostly gone, giving way to hybrid Reggie-Bush type backs and the trend will only continue. Tight ends like Dallas Clark provide basically another wide receiver on the field. And now it seems that the offensive line should feature interchangeable parts - allowing for optimum flexibility for a coaching staff.

You can expect Todd Haley and Scott Pioli to think along these lines as he pieces together his offensive unit this offseason. Perhaps some surprising names await at some surprising positions.