Jibreel Black embracing move from defensive end to tackle for Michigan football team
One of the more difficult tasks for a college football player is making a position change. Players say it can take as long as a year to become fully comfortable with the techniques, terminology and responsibilities of a new position.
Long run, a change often is in the best interest of the player, team or both. But in the short term, it's a difficult proposition.
When Jilbreel Black was asked to move from defensive end to tackle, though, he didn't think twice about it.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: "You're going to play 3-technique for us."
Black: "Yes, sir."
The execution won't be quite as simple as that. But by all accounts, Black has taken well to his new position this spring.
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"It being a new position for me, I think I’m making some big strides for the team," Black said last week. "Coming from the outside to the inside, I’m able to use my quickness. I’m a little faster off the ball.
"I think it’s a perfect fit. Any way I can help the team out and better the team is perfect for me."
Black will help anchor a defensive line that is undergoing a major face lift this offseason. Gone are stalwarts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, who combined for 75 career starts, as well as the steady Will Heininger.
If Black does start -- and he appears to be the current leader to do so -- he would take over Heininger's tackle spot. To pick up the nuances of the position, the junior has been consulting Heininger, who made the same end-to-tackle move a couple weeks into last season.
He's learned about "shooting his hands," as well as how to be faster off the ball.
One thing Heininger had going for him that Black does not, however, is size. He made the switch at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds.
Black played last season at just 6-foot-2, 260 pounds.
He already has started to pack on the pounds for the move. He's up to 270 this spring, and hopes to add 10 more before fall.
Still, that would make Black slight for the position. That accentuates the importance of improving his technique.
"He shows that you're going to have a faster player in there," Mattison said. "When a guy beats a block, he has the ability to run people down. But with a guy who's not that big, you'd better play with better technique, and that's what he's had to work on the most."
That, in the end, is the big payoff for the move. Black is much more athletic than Heininger, and could become a disruptive force in the long-term.
This year, though, it could be a struggle as Michigan breaks in new starters at all four defensive line spots. Alongside Black on the inside, it appears Will Campbell is the leader to start at nose tackle (Martin's spot last year).
On the outside, the only returner, senior Craig Roh, has moved from weak-side to strong-side end. Sophomore Frank Clark and converted linebacker Brennen Beyer are battling for Roh's old weak-side end spot.
In some ways, it is as though Michigan is right back where it was 12 months ago, when Mattison spent much of the spring teaching his linemen the basic fundamentals of the position.
One advantage the Wolverines will have this year, though, is players already have put in a year with the 4-3 scheme. It is the first time since 2007 they have run the same defense in consecutive years.
Black might be learning a new position, but he's not learning a new defense. That's big.
"They know the system now," Mattison said. "If a young man is not physically strong enough, if he's not big enough, he knows the system now, and he's going to be allowed to play better than if he is learning it from scratch, like everybody was last year."