CORVALLIS — Geoff Garner’s football life suddenly became more complicated this week.
The 300-pound Oregon State sophomore made his first snap in an organized practice on Monday with his conversion to center. He’s also added the responsibility of making the blocking calls for the other linemen.
And instead of being a tackle worrying about a defensive end going around him, Garner has his primary problem right in front of him.
“It’s definitely a big change just because the defensive tackle, the second you snap the ball, is right into you,” Garner said. “You’ve got to fire right away.”
And meanwhile, hope that he made the correct blocking assignments for the entire offensive line.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to be reliable,” Garner said. “Everyone is relying on you to make the correct call. ... There’s a lot on your plate.
“There are a lot of things to do right on every play.”The shuffling of OSU linemen, which began in the spring when four of the five starters were at new positions, has continued in this first week of fall practices for the Beavers with the backups.
Garner was the most notable move, from tackle to center. That was prompted partly by a foot injury in the spring game suffered by reserve Roman Sapolu, which caused concern about his readiness for preseason workouts.
But Garner also gives the Beavers more size at the center position and has the intelligence to master the position, said Mike Cavanaugh, the OSU offensive line coach.
“We thought moving him to center would be a good fit,” Cavanaugh said. “Sometimes you’ve got to swing ’em around” to find the right combination of linemen.
That was certainly the thinking behind the changes with the No. 1 unit, where senior Mike Remmers moved to left tackle after 32 starts as right tackle, which will be taken either by former starting left tackle Michael Philipp or Colin Kelly.
There’s also competition at right guard between incumbent Burke Ellis and fellow senior Michael Lamb.
The starting center is now Grant Johnson, moved there after 25 starts at left guard. That meant previous center candidate Josh Andrews could move to left guard, where the Beavers feel his aggressive attitude can be turned loose without the added duties associated with playing center.
“I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s got that (butt) kicker mentality. He loves to play, he’s physical. ... Hopefully he’ll be that emotional leader.”
The Beavers are certainly looking to put a charge into their offensive line.
Remmers called it “redemption” after a disappointing 2010 season, and Cavanaugh suggested in his usual strong terms that all of his linemen “better have a big chip on their shoulder” to prove their worth.
“We had a little attitude adjustment,” Remmers said. “We’re just really working hard and trying to finish our blocks ... block through (opponents), not to.”
Again, Cavanaugh put the same sentiment into stronger terms.
“We’ve got to come off the ball and put our eyes right through guys’ chin guards and we’ve got to frigging unload on people,” the coach said.
To do so, the Beavers are bigger and stronger across the front. There was a renewed emphasis on work in the weight room, and the success there was helped along because all of the starting linemen had an offseason that was free of rehabilitation from previous injuries, as it was for Philipp and Johnson last year.
There are still some concerns. Garner needs to master his new assignment, to assure the Beavers have a capable backup at the important center position.
There isn’t much depth at tackle, prompting the move of guard Grant Enger to the outside so the Beavers can go two-deep at the position without Garner moving back outside.
“I’m optimistic about this offensive line, because they’re all improved players,” OSU coach Mike Riley said of his linemen. “They’ve all grown, so through all this we’ll have a better line and better depth.”