Vrabel Q&A: On transition from DE to OLB

May, 30, 2014
May 30
12:50
PM ET
Mike Vrabel played defensive end at Ohio State before becoming a third-round pick in 1997 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers turned Vrabel into an outside linebacker -- or at least they tried. It's a transition a lot of players make these days, and one that isn't easy. Vrabel's experience doing it is a major boon as he coaches players who have recently or are just now making the transition -- like the first overall pick in this year's draft, whose success with the Texans will hinge on his ability to do so.

I sat down with Vrabel on Thursday, and in the second of three posts from that conversation, we'll discuss how his experience will help him in coaching Jadeveon Clowney and other players.

You made the much-talked-about transition from a college defensive end to a pro outside linebacker --

[+] EnlargeClowney
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherMike Vrabel is working with Jadeveon Clowney on the transition to outside linebacker, a change Vrabel also had to make when he was a player.
Mike Vrabel: Not very quickly. Took me a while. And so I have to understand there’s a level of change with a lot of those young guys that were defensive ends two weeks ago. As of two weeks ago they were college defensive ends. I need to try to revert back to when I was trying to learn that position, the things that I struggled with and try to coach them so I can help them make it a quicker transition than what it took me.

What did you struggle with?:

MV: Just playing in space, playing on your feet. Instead of being in a three-point stance, you’re in a two-point stance. There’s coverage responsibilities, there’s rush responsibilities, most importantly really just playing on space and understanding how to tackle defenders in space as opposed to in close areas.

Some people think it was easy for you given the career you had.

MV: If they know that I played for the Steelers, I didn’t start a game for four years. And then I went to New England and started the next 10 years. So with that being said, I understand that there’s a learning curve. Not that I’m going to try to make it go any slower, but I’m going to show them examples of how I can speed up their learning curve.

What helped you?

MV: I had good coaches, I had good players. We had really good linebackers in Pittsburgh so there was the testimonial, there was the examples, there was ownership. They were veterans. Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon, Earl Holmes. Guys that were good football players in the National Football League on our defense on our team. They helped with the transition, they helped with the learning curve. Sometimes you can learn from a coach, sometimes you need to learn from a player. Good pros, they’re going to teach the younger guys.

Tania Ganguli

ESPN Houston Texans reporter

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