INDIANAPOLIS | Vinston Painter knows the pitfalls of playing football without settling into one position. He arrived at Virginia Tech in 2008, a heavily recruited left tackle from Norfolk. But the Hokies moved him to defensive tackle. Then to offensive guard. And finally to right tackle.
“Bouncing around like that from position to position slowed my development a little bit, and at times during my career I didn’t progress as fast as I would have liked,” Painter said at the NFL scouting combine Thursday. “But it definitely made me the player that I am today, and I wouldn’t really change it.”
That’s because the nomadic start to his college career likely will make him more attractive to NFL teams in April’s draft.
Right tackles generally aren’t valued as highly as left tackles, largely because right tackles don’t protect a right-handed quarterback’s blind side. That creates an interesting dichotomy when it comes to drafting them.
Teams often take one of two approaches. They either use a high draft pick on a premier athlete who played left tackle in college and convert him to the right side, or they wait a few rounds and select a collegiate right tackle whose resume includes experience at multiple positions.
The Redskins entered the offseason with a vacancy at right tackle because the contracts of Tyler Polumbus and Jammal Brown expire March 12.
They have used low-round picks on tackles Maurice Hurt and Tom Compton in the past two years. And if they decide to fill right tackle through the draft, they seem more likely to do so with a versatile player in the later rounds because they don’t have a first-round pick and because pressing needs exist on defense.
“You like to have position flexibility,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “If a guy has played exclusively on the left, you have to be concerned. Can he make the transition to right tackle physically? And it’s a new technique that he’s going to have to learn. So you won’t know until you try it.”
Colbert had that in mind last offseason when the Steelers drafted Ohio State tackle Mike Adams in the second round (56th overall). Adams played left tackle in college, but he played some on the right side at the Senior Bowl that January.
Colbert became convinced Adams could make the switch. Adams started six games at right tackle in place of injured starter Marcus Gilbert. Adams’ knee injury contributed to some typical rookie struggles, but he is a candidate to start in 2013.
The San Francisco 49ers took a similar approach when they drafted Rutgers left tackle Anthony Davis 11th overall in 2010. Davis began his collegiate career on the right side, and that’s where the 49ers play him, opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley.
“The right side typically is a bigger man, a stouter man, a more physical man,” San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said. “The left side is maybe a little bit better foot athlete, a little bit better [knee-bender] that can match up with the elite pass rushers in the National Football League. But that isn’t always the case. Some teams, some philosophies, they’re mirror-type guys. So it really depends on the system you employ. Historically that’s been the difference.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan prefers offensive linemen who run fast. His outside zone blocking scheme and the screen passing game require linemen to run sideline to sideline and downfield. So keep an eye on linemen’s 40-yard dash times Saturday.
Painter has a goal for his 40-yard dash time, but he wouldn’t share it.
“I don’t really like to kiss and tell,” he said.
And regardless which team drafts him, he’s confident he can play anywhere along the line.
“It’s just football, pretty much,” he said. “Getting used to different sets, setting on the left and setting to the right, it kind of has a different feel to it. But I played both, so I’m kind of adjusted to playing both sides and used to playing both sides.”