For five NFL and four before that in college Nick Kaczurhas lined up at tackle. Now for the first time he's being asked to do something different.
Logan Mankins' contract situation isn't any closer to a resolution today than it was in June when he sounded off against the team and refused to sign his restricted free agent tender. The absence of the All-Pro has left a gaping hole at left guard, and at least initially Bill Belichickis asking Kaczur to fill it.
So, after 68 appearances at tackle as a pro and 51 during his career at Toledo, just how much experience does Kaczur have at guard?
"Uh, none," replied the gravely voiced veteran when asked what his background was at his new position.
Still, the 6-4, 315-pound Brantford, Ontario, native has been around New England long enough to understand how the Patriots operate. Players are expected to be able to fill a variety of roles, and Kaczur looks at his position switch as nothing different.
"They've had me playing a bunch of different spots so I'm kind of used to it," he said. "It's another challenge for me and another opportunity for me to show what I can do and be diverse so that's what I'm looking forward to doing."
Kaczur spent the entire spring working at his new spot, lining up between Matt Light(left tackle) and Dan Koppen(center) for all of OTAs and mandatory mini-camp. But this was his first appearance at left guard with pads on, and judging from Belichick's response when asked about Mankins the lineup may remain that way for a while.
"No. All of the players that are here are under contract and Logan is not under contract," Belichick said when asked if Mankins was at the stadium.
Despite Kaczur's vast experience at tackle, where he's started 62 of the 68 games he's appeared in as a Patriot, a move to guard isn't completely unexpected. When he was going through the pre-draft process coming out of Toledo, some draft prognosticators felt a switch would be in the offing at the NFL level.
Pro Football Weekly's analysis of Kaczur certainly felt that way. The report said that Kaczur struggled with power rushers at times and that he had a difficult time protecting the edge while playing left tackle at the East-West Shrine Game. That led to the following summary:
"Nimble-footed zone blocker who needs to play inside at the next level and can be effective in a zone-blocking offense like that of the Broncos or Chiefs."
While Kaczur was by no means dominant at right tackle, he proved the critics wrong by manning the spot ably for five seasons. Now he has to re-learn a lot of the techniques that have been ingrained in his mind over the years as he adapts to his new surroundings.
"Honestly it's learning the plays," Kaczur said when asked about the most difficult part of the transition. "You'd think it'd be the same thing but it's like every time a play comes up I still think of the tackle and I have to adjust and say, 'No, I'm inside now.' So, it changes to different linebackers [to block] and things like that."
There's one other change that Kaczur has noticed – the guys he's blocking from the guard position are a lot bigger. While the tackle spot is no picnic in terms of physical requirements, oftentimes he was dealing with smaller, speedier pass rushers looking to beat him to the edge. At guard he's playing more of a power position where behemoth defensive tackles and big, athletic linebackers are waiting to catch him off balance and push him back to disrupt plays.
That was the case during one drill on the opening day of training camp. With the offense working near the goal line against most of the front line defensive players, the unit failed to find the end zone on consecutive plays running over the left side – Kaczur's new spot. On the first Vince Wilforkshot through a gap and affected the exchange between Tom Bradyand Sammy Morris. On the second the defense stormed through and Morris was stacked up well short of the end zone.
"Your stance and your base change," Kaczur said of the physical adjustments necessary for the spot. "You have people all around you and I'm used to having a lot of space and now you are more confined. So you have to shorten up you stance a bit to prevent from tripping all over people."
As Kaczur continues his transition he is in the rather precarious position of possibly being a temporary replacement. If Mankins' situation is resolved it could mean the end of Kaczur's presence in the starting lineup. Light figures to keep his job at left tackle with second-year player Sebastian Vollmer emerging as regular at right tackle.
If Mankins returns Kaczur could lose both spots, but that's not something he's concerning himself with at this point.
"That would be something we'd have to deal with when that time comes."