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February 24, 2010

Black will take position switch for NFL shot

FRANKLIN, Tenn. - When hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake, making change isn't a problem.

That's why Ciron Black, a former star offensive tackle at LSU, has no qualms about moving to guard or center in the NFL.

"Whatever the coaches want," he said last week at D1 Sports Training in suburban Nashville as he prepared for the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine. "There are certainly teams that are looking at me at different positions, and I'll do whatever they want, whether it's guard, center or tackle.

"At the Senior Bowl, I played a lot of center and I got full-contact work at guard. I'll do whatever it takes to make a roster."

That attitude obviously is a positive factor. Black's intelligence and his 6-foot-4, 318-pound frame are, too.

But left tackles typically are the highest-paid offensive linemen, and Black could make a compelling case why he should play there. He started at left tackle on LSU's 2007 national championship team. He earned All-SEC recognition. He made some All-America teams. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's top offensive lineman in 2009. In the '07 national championship game, he lined up across from eventual first-round pick Vernon Gholston, who managed just three tackles.

Yet an NFL scout, who requested anonymity, said if Black has a future in the NFL, it won't be at tackle.

"Black is a size guy that has played a lot of football in a premier conference," the scout said. "[He] would be best-served moving inside to guard due to some athletic limitations. His size and great intangibles are what will carry him in the NFL."

Some egos would be bruised by such an appraisal. But Black views that as sound career advice rather than a slight.

"Why would my ego be hurt?" he asked. "I feel I can play left tackle, but if they [NFL teams] don't, that's OK. [Scouts] have been doing this for a long time.

"My ego only gets hurt if I lose a rep in one-on-one [drills]. That's the only time I get my feelings hurt."

Black said his feelings were only hurt a couple of times during last month's Senior Bowl workouts. He found himself at guard for the first time and went against Alabama's Terrence Cody and Texas' Lamarr Houston. Black said he won most of his one-on-one battles in drills. When Black did lose a one-on-one, he said it was often a matter of using tackle technique. By force of habit, he'd take an elongated side-step and was knocked off-balance when the defensive tackle bull-rushed.

"The coaches would say, 'Why did you do that?' " Black said. "I've been doing the same thing for 10 years, since middle school."

There are several similarities between playing tackle and guard or center, but Black pointed out there are dramatic differences, too.

"At the end of the day, it's still the offensive line. You have to keep your quarterback clean and make holes," he said. "At guard, you have to expect contact immediately. You have a 365-, 370-pound guy in your face. At tackle, you have a 280-pound guy trying to get around you, so you have time before you make contact. But at guard, you're butting heads quick. It's more physical at guard. It's smash-mouth."

"People say left tackle is the most crucial [line position], and it is critical because you have to keep your quarterback clean and blah, blah, blah. But at guard, you have to do the same thing. The difference is if you get beat, the quarterback can see the tackler coming at him."

Last season, Black got beat a couple of times when he felt he shouldn't have. He was playing on an inexperienced line, and on some occasions he would detect an inside blitz and be preoccupied rather than focusing completely on the guy across from him.

"I shouldn't have been worrying about blitzes inside and should have been worrying about my man," he said.

Line play was just one reason LSU finished 9-4 last season. For most programs, a nine-win season is a good season. That's not really the case in Baton Rouge.

"It was a decent season," Black said. "Almost anywhere else in the country, it would have been a good season. At LSU, we strive to be the best. We weren't the best, so it was only a decent season.

"There's a big difference between going to the SEC championship and the Capital One Bowl."

Even though the Tigers must move on without their best offensive lineman, Black predicted they will contend for the SEC and national championship this fall.

"LSU has a shot every year," he said. "We had some slip-ups last year. Offensively, we weren't as good as we needed to be. Jordan Jefferson is older and he'll develop into a great SEC quarterback."

The main question for Black is whether he can develop into a great NFL offensive lineman.

"If I fall into the third or fourth round, I'll still play as if I was the No. 2 pick in the draft," Black said. "I want to show coaches I'm capable of playing. I just want to let everything fall into place, pray I stay healthy and get better at something every day."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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