Taylor Hart's Position Switch Like Going From Prius to Ferrari

When Taylor Hart showed up to the NovaCare Complex in the spring of 2014 as a fifth-round draft pick, Matt Tobin couldn't help but think Hart looked more like an offensive lineman than a defensive lineman. 

Three years later, he's right. 

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This spring, Hart has switched positions from defensive tackle to offensive tackle, an idea that sprung late last season when he was helping an injury-riddled offensive line by taking some scout team reps at offensive tackle. He ended up looking a little better than he probably should have and eventually came around on the idea of permanently changing positions. 

This spring, he's playing offensive line for the first time since his days as a two-way lineman at Tualatin High School in Oregon. That was nine years ago. 

"Playing at the high school level and then going right to the NFL," Hart said, "it's kind of like driving a Prius and then going to a Ferrari."

At least this offseason, Hart had a pretty good driving instructor. 

Thanks to Hart's agent, the 26-year-old was set up with 14-year NFL pro and six-time Pro Bowler Doug Smith. 

The two had about 15 sessions, each lasting an hour, on the track surrounding the grass field in at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, where Smith is now a fitness instructor and football and track coach. 

"Tool-wise, he's great," Smith said during a phone interview with CSNPhilly.com earlier this week. "He's a good striker, has really good feet. The biggest thing I told him, the only thing that I can see him having difficulty with is the assignment portion. He hasn't had the offensive lineman vision since high school. And that portion of the game right now is really sophisticated, obviously. 

"But as far as having the athleticism, his speed is extraordinary for an offensive lineman. So as long as he can make the academic conversion to the game, he should do really well." 

The main thing Smith, 60, worked on with Hart was striking and aiming point on strikes - where he wants Hart to hit the defender. Then, Smith made it tougher, making Hart strike on one leg, then with one arm, basically any way to make things more difficult. 

Smith also tried to give Hart as many looks at outside speed rush as possible but admitted it's pretty hard to duplicate NFL edge rushers without an NFL edge rusher. 

What really impressed Smith was Hart's ability to strike. In fact, he thinks it was Hart's time as a defensive lineman that made him a better in that area. Smith explained most D-linemen are better strikers nowadays because they're more used to it than O-linemen, who are in a lot more zone read offenses and hanging on in pass protection. 

Hart, of course, wouldn't be the first NFL player to make this transition. Former Eagles defensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva has become the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting left tackle. Hart said Monday he has spoken with his former teammate about the transition. Villanueva has offered him several tips. 

"A guy that's done it before helps show that it's possible," Hart said, "so that's why I'm excited to do this."

The biggest hurdle for Hart likely won't be physical, Smith said. He's more worried about the intricate details - recognizing fronts, the rotation of safeties, etc. - of playing on the offensive line in the NFL. Smith pointed out that plenty of college players struggle with the transition, let alone a guy who didn't play O-line in college and hasn't played the position in nearly a decade. 

Still, Smith isn't betting against his pupil. 

"I think he's got a good head on his shoulders," Smith said. "He's confident about making the move and that's big."

Hart is making sure he isn't getting carried away just yet though. He admitted he was "swimming in the deep end" during his first few practices as an offensive lineman. Things have gotten better since then. 

Hart is looking forward to getting to training camp; once the hitting starts, he'll have a better idea of where he stands. 

"How do I think I'm doing?" Hart said. "I think I have a long road ahead of me. We haven't even put on pads left. I have a lot of work and fundamentals to work on."

For now, Hart has been working with the offense strictly at right tackle and with the third team, but he wants to cross-train so he's able to play on the left or right side of the line. 

Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Hart made the switch in hopes of extending his career in a league that doesn't normally have much patience. 

"He's got the size, the strength, all the tools to be good," Tobin said. "It's just working on technique, he's never done it in his life, so it's going to take a little bit. He's doing a lot of good things and we've got two more weeks, so I think we can get a lot more done."

If nothing else, Hart looks like an offensive lineman. In fact, that's just about the only thing that hasn't changed. 

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