Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
In Mark Webb’s case, it has gone swimmingly. In the case of Lamont Gaillard, it couldn’t have turned out better. Walter Grant, not so great. Mecole Hardman? Mistake. It was a game-changer for Tae Crowder.
It’s the sometimes dreaded, usually controversial and always difficult transition of the position change. To varying degrees, more than half of the players on Georgia’s roster have had to make some sort of position change since showing up from high school. For some, the switch is subtle, such as playing guard rather than tackle, center rather than guard, in the slot rather than out wide, or at cornerback rather than safety and vice-versa.
But occasionally there is the rarely subtle switch from offense to defense, or vice versa. That’s what Webb did when we went from being a highly recruited wide receiver to a lost-in-space defensive back. Walter Grant switched the other way, from defense to offense, if only for a short while. Grant moved from outside linebacker to running back.
Then back to ’backer.
Most of the time, players are willing to do whatever their coaches suggest in an attempt to gain playing time, better their NFL prospects and, of course, help the team. Sometimes it’s a deal breaker, though and sends guys to the transfer portal.
“It was rough from the start,” said Webb, who signed with UGA out of Philadelphia as 4-star wide receiver in the country. “But it got smoother as time went on, and I started to understand the journey and what coach (Kirby) Smart had planned for me. It was rough, but it’s going in the right place right now.”
Webb’s transition was upon him before he knew it. He entered Georgia as a regular enrollee in the Class of 2017 as the No. 14-rated receiver in America, then found himself switched to defensive back during the second week of the season as the Bulldogs prepared for a road game at Notre Dame.
Webb didn’t play that week, but he did the next week and every week after that as Georgia made its heart-pumping run in the College Football Playoff. But he was a backup and on special teams all the way, coming in late in games and getting a little work on special teams. He finished with one tackle.
“The transition wasn’t easy, definitely,” Webb said in an interview earlier this week. “Defense, I wasn’t used to it. And our defense is definitely complicated. That was a big change for me.”
Grant’s transition was unexpected. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound junior had played in every game the past two seasons as an outside linebacker, with eight starts. Then Grant was moved to running back early in spring practice this year.
The Bulldogs were facing a bit of a shortfall on healthy backs, with D’Andre Swift, James Cook and Zamir White all slowed to varying degrees with injuries. Grant played a little running back at Cairo High. He was asked to take over the position midway through his senior season to bolster the Syrupmakers’ playoff chances. He came through with 512 yards and seven touchdowns on 82 carries.
But Grant had been a stalwart presence at Georgia’s “Sam” outside linebacker position his first two seasons. So, he really didn’t see the change coming. Yet he insists he was OK with the whole experiment.
“It was just another way to help the team,” Grant said. “It was nothing crazy. … I would say it was just another way to give our team a better look, a little change, a little something different. … Anyway, I can help my team and bring more value, I will.”
Grant said there wasn’t any dramatic meeting where he was called to Smart’s office to discuss their plans or ask his feelings. It just “sort of happened,” he said.
“I really didn’t have any say-so, but if I wouldn’t have (had) a problem with if I did,” Grant said. “I never had a thought about (playing running back), but I never had a problem with playing both sides of the ball. It was cool with me.”
Georgia is back healthy in the offensive backfield, and Grant finds himself in the throes of one of the more fierce position battles of the preseason. The Bulldogs have recruited through the roof at the outside linebacker position, with three 5-stars joining the fray since Grant signed on in 2017.
The history of Georgia football is full of stories of successful position changes. For a long while, Vince Dooley made a living on recruiting quarterbacks, then moving them to whatever position needed filling. Dicky Clark came in as a quarterback and left as an All-American defensive end. David Pollack came to UGA as a fullback and left as the most decorated defensive lineman in school history.
So they work out a lot of the time. Sometimes they don’t.
But neither Grant nor Webb thought about tossing in the towel with the Bulldogs.
“Nah, I never second-guessed anything,” said Webb, who may start at the “star” position and will be in the regular rotation regardless. “I feel like coach Smart has a plan for me.”
Said Grant: “It was nothing like that. Whatever you can play, the more value you have, the more you can be on the field. That’s really what it is.”