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Indians surprise Daniel with move to offensive line
When Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings approached Caleb Daniel about switching from defense to offense just a few days before the start of spring practice, the Jackson High School graduate wasn't very excited.
After all, Daniel had spent his first three seasons at Southeast as a key defensive tackle, turning in solid if unspectacular performances as a starter for much of that period. Spending his final collegiate campaign at offensive tackle didn't appeal to him.
"It was like maybe two or three days before our first practice, and he just kind of sprang it on me. It was a big shock," Daniel said. "At first I wasn't excited at all because I've been starting on defense the last two years and I played a lot my freshman year.
"I didn't complain, but I just didn't know what his line of thinking was. When he explained that it would be better for the team, I pretty much agreed."
And now, as the Indians are into their third week of spring practice, Daniel has changed his tune. While still not overjoyed, he has somewhat embraced the move that has helped shore up a line that lost three key members -- including All-American center Eugene Amano -- and is short of numbers.
"I was really uneasy about it at first because it's such a big change after playing defense for so long," Daniel said. "But now that I've gotten more and more into it, and learned more about the position ... I wouldn't say I'm happy about it, but I don't have a problem with it."
Added Daniel with a laugh, "If I get to the point I'm pretty good at it I might be happy, but mainly I'm still kind of shocked."
Billings thought the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Daniel -- he expects to put on some weight before preseason practice begins in August -- was ideally suited to help out the depleted offensive front because of his athletic ability.
"Caleb did a good job for us on defense, but we really needed another offensive lineman, and we think he's got a chance to be really good," Billings said. "He's got great feet, and he can be a great offensive tackle."
And Billings doesn't expect Daniel to make the move without being rewarded.
"We wouldn't have moved him if we didn't plan on him starting," Billings said.
Although a lot can happen between the time the Indians concludes spring drills with their annual intrasquad game on April 24 and resume practice in August, Southeast offensive line coach Mike Chavez said Daniel is penciled in as the starter at right tackle.
"The plan is for him to start. If the season began today, he would be the starter," said Chavez, who like Billings believes Daniel has what it takes to excel on the offensive line. "He's got a lot of potential. He moves his feet real well. He's got a lot of athletic ability.
"He still has a lot to learn. Without insulting any defensive line coaches out there, there's a little more technique involved on the offensive side. He has to learn the calls, and I think the toughest thing will be able to learn to pass protect. But he's coming along."
Said Daniel, "Technique is so much more crucial. We go over technique a whole lot more than we did on defense. It's just so different. I'm used to sprinting and running to the ball, but now I'm taking short, choppy steps."
So far, so good, according to Daniel.
"I think I'm doing a lot better than I thought I would, but I know I still have a long way to go," he said.
Chavez said he actually envisioned Daniel being an offensive lineman all along when he first saw him at Southeast's summer camp when Daniel was still in high school and the Indians' coaching staff was preparing for their first season in Cape Girardeau.
"To be honest with you, when I first got out here, at our camp, I actually tried to talk him into being an offensive lineman because I saw so much potential," Chavez said. "So I've thrown that at him every now and then over the last few years."
But, added a grinning Chavez, "Coach Billings made the decision to move him. Contrary to what the defensive coaches think, I had nothing to do with it. But I'm happy. You're happy any time you can get an athlete like that."
Helped by the addition of Daniel, Chavez likes the look of his line, which returns two all-Ohio Valley Conference performers in senior right guard Dan Bieg (first team) and senior left tackle Dan Connolly (second team). Also back is sophomore left guard Austin Russell, who started the final five games of last season as a true freshman.
Sophomore John Ball, who went to high school with Russell in Texas and saw limited time last year as a true freshman, has replaced Amano at center.
Adding depth this spring is sophomore tackle Brett Swann, who played for Southeast two years ago as a freshman but was academically ineligible last season. Several more linemen are due in for fall practice.
"John Ball has to fill in for arguably the best center in the nation last year, but I think John can do that," Chavez said. "As a whole I think our line can be better than last year, we just don't have much depth right now."