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August 15, 2008When Jared Zwilling was a young defensive tackle on the Boilermaker practice field a couple years ago, he'd often line up against veteran guard Uche Nwaneri, who quickly plotted the then-scout-teamer's future for him.
"Uche used to joke with me and say, 'You look like an offensive lineman. You'll be over here (on offense) in a little bit,'" Zwilling remembers.
"He was right, I guess."
Nwaneri, a converted defensive lineman himself, indeed was proven correct when Zwilling, after a redshirt year and two seasons as a reserve defensive tackle, was moved to the offensive line last spring.
"As a defensive player, I thought the O-line just kind of walked to the top of the hill (in practice) and just walked around up there or something," Zwilling, now a junior, joked. "But it's a totally different story. It's really hard work. But I really like it. (Offensive line coach Danny) Hope's really intense."
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Evansville native was switched in the spring in hopes that he'd compete for the starting position at center, vacated by the graduation of Robbie Powell. He was cross-trained at both center and guard.
But a stubborn back problem kept Zwilling from putting his best foot forward in the spring.
"It was a rough spring," said Zwilling, who remained on the field despite the discomfort. "It was really tough coming out here. The pain wasn't real bad, but it was there constantly."
Even if he were 100-percent healthy in the spring, beating out senior Cory Benton in the middle would have been a tall order, but Zwilling's now getting another chance to be a starter.
Since the outset of training camp, he's been taking snaps with the first-team offense at left guard, where 2007 starter Zach Reckman returns.
"He has a chance to start. Right now, he is starting," Coach Joe Tiller said. "It's easier to play guard than it is center, and he's healthy.
"Danny's got a lot of confidence in him. That's not to say I don't, but I need to see more ... before I'm prepared to (name him a starter). I hope for his sake and our sake that he can do it."
For Zwilling, the move to offense offered an escape from a crowded defensive tackle rotation and an opportunity to potentially see considerably more playing time in 2008.
Purdue has rotated its defensive tackles pretty evenly the past two seasons, giving Zwilling plenty of field team. But this is his first chance to become a starter.
Because of his temperament and stout, almost-squarish physique, offensive line might suit Zwilling better than defense, he said. But that's not to say it's not an adjustment.
"You have think a lot more on offense," Zwilling said. "On defense, sometimes you just have to shoot a gap. On offense, you have to read things, get your steps down right.
"You just have to think a lot more, but your meanness and aggressiveness can't change."
Position switch looming?
When asked following Friday's afternoon practice whether any position switches might be looming, Tiller gave a cryptic affirmative.
"Possibly," he said. "What's today? Friday? There might be something forthcoming on Monday. We'll see."
Tiller said Thursday that the possibility of addressing Purdue's thin numbers at linebacker with a position switch is a "daily discussion." He's also talked of moving around some of his big, versatile players on the defensive line, in particular.
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