April 8, 2011

Rob Crisp is still learning

Offensive tackle Rob Crisp couldn't have asked for a better start to his college career. The Raleigh (N.C.) Athens Drive product started the first game of his college career, earning the nod at left tackle against Western Carolina. Crisp stepped in for NFL draft hopeful Jake Vermiglio but the rising-sophomore mentioned that the senior helped him a great deal while he prepared to fill Vermiglio's shoes.

"It was a thrill [to start the season opener]," Crisp said. "Obviously, I didn't think I was going to start any game coming in as a true freshman, it was going to be a learning process for me. I came in during the summer, just trying to work hard during camp. They told me a week before the game that I was going to be starting at left tackle and Jake helped me throughout camp and the whole summer."

Although Vermiglio returned to the lineup in the following contest and did not relinquish his stranglehold on the job, the lessons Vermiglio passed on to his understudy lasted all year.

"Being behind Jake taught me a lot. Coming in, I knew I wasn't going to do as well as high school but he taught me to keep my composure, to go out there and do what I can on every play. He taught me how to run each play and how to work hard on each play. I'm definitely grateful that I got to play behind Jake Vermiglio last year."

With Vermiglio's departure, a gaping hole remains at left tackle. However, Crisp is simply trying to focus on improving each and every day, just like his predecessor taught him.

"The biggest thing in college ball is to just compete at your position," Crisp said. "Guys are trying to fight to get playing time and I think the biggest thing I need to do is to compete and work hard.

"I'm pretty excited [left tackle is open] but I got to keep in the back of my mind that this is a competition. Guys are going to fight for the position. I just need to stay humble and work hard."

In addition to the lessons Vermiglio passed on during their time on the practice field, Crisp enjoyed his fair share of learning experiences on the game field. He was in for a total of 122 snaps and allowed just one sack. His lesson at Carter-Finley Stadium came early in that Western Carolina season opener on a running play.

"There was a run block where I was supposed to go get a linebacker," Crisp remembered. "[When I was] run blocking in high school, I could just crush a guy. This guy took me head-on and [hit me], it pretty much killed my head. It was definitely a wake-up call."

In addition, Crisp saw the playing field as the starting left tackle on the field goal unit. It was a task that helped him be on the field while adjusting to the increased speed of the college game. Like a linebacker meeting the 6-foot-7, 312-pounder head-on; playing on the field goal team was also a new experience for Crisp.

"It was definitely different [playing on the field goal unit]," he said. "I didn't play many special teams in high school so coming in at a new position where you have to be really physical was different for me, but it was a good experience. It got my feet wet."

This spring, Crisp is carrying a few extra pounds of muscle, up from the 299 he was listed at to start last fall, and is trying something new once again: playing on the right side. It's not a completely foreign concept to the former five-star recruit, who played on the right side at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but it is a huge change from lining up at his customary spot on the blind side.

"I've actually been working at right and left tackle, so I'm just trying to feel my way through it," he said. "It's a big difference, that's why we're doing it now during spring ball, so I can try getting adjusted to both positions. There are a couple of new wrinkles, we lost Jake and a couple of other guys who graduated, so we're still trying to find the right guys in the right places but, overall, it's going well.

"It's definitely a different view of things, but it's also the way you step in certain plays that is totally different than left tackle. It's going from kicking one way to kicking the other way on pass protection and going from stepping one way to the other on run blocking."

Despite the changes, Crisp is going to continue to keep his nose to the grindstone. He said he is already a different player than last year and will keep with the philosophy that has been working so far.

"I believe I've improved in almost every area, as far as left tackle," he said. "Like I said, learning behind Jake taught me a lot. My pass protection got a lot better, my kick slide and my drive blocking has increased a whole lot. I'm just trying to work on getting better every day."

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