To look at the University of Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill, all 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds of him, you’d assume he spent his entire football life as an offensive lineman.
‘I was learning football all over again’
As recent as June, 2016, O’Neill was a tight end for the Panthers. And it wasn’t until late that month, with his red-shirt freshman year fast approaching, that he was asked if he would move to offensive tackle. Now, O’Neill finds himself as one of the NFL’s Drafts top prospects at the position.
“At first it was a little tough, considering I was about 255 pounds in late June going into the 2016 season and they asked me to switch,” O’Neill told Zig Fracassi and Adam Caplan on NFL Rewind. “So I put on about 30 pounds in a couple months. And not only was the added weight different, but it’s a whole different ballgame inside. I was learning football all over again. But it went well. I had a good team around me They made my job easier because all I had to do was what they told me to in terms of nutrition and being able to put on the weight.”
‘I was still trying to make my mark on the team and they were scrambling for a guy to play tackle’
O’Neill wasn’t pushed into the new role, although he sized up that it would likely give him the chance to make a more meaningful contribution to the team.
“I think I was going to be on a rotation that year at tight end, but the team had a need,” he said. “We had a guy go down in summer workouts, kind of mid-June, and I was still trying to make my mark on the team and they were scrambling for a guy to play tackle. And they asked me if I would, they didn’t force me to. They gave me about a week to think about it and I called them the next morning after talking to my parents and a couple other people and said, ‘I’m in.’ Once I was in, it was all-in and no looking back and it’s been great ever since.”
‘As an offensive tackle, if you don’t do your job, the play’s busted’
One of the major parts of the transition to tackle is realizing the greater importance of having his hands and feet working in concert. O’Neill has seen steady improvement in his techniques.
“I think if your hands and feet aren’t in sync, you’re going to get in bad positions, where you can run around as a tight end and not get the ball,” O’Neill said. “Not saying that role isn’t critical, but as an offensive tackle, if you don’t do your job, the play’s busted, where if you don’t get the ball as a tight end, we can still have a successful play.
‘(Honing techniques is) still a work in progress’
“So honing in on those techniques and making sure they’re the same every single time was something that was a challenge and that’s still a work in progress because that role is so critical in protecting the quarterback.”
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