Training Camp is always a grind for NFL players. Long practices in the August sun, team meetings and the physicality of being a professional football player all take their toll.
Add switching positions to the rest of the challenges at an NFL camp and Alex Boone has a full plate going, a fact not lost on the 300-pound offensive lineman.
Boone has spent the 2012 offseason shifting to right guard after serving as the team’s backup tackle on both sides the past two seasons.
The move to the inside of the offensive line has been a challenge, but it presents Boone with the opportunity to start for the first time in his career.
The fourth-year player began preparing to transition to guard by watching NFL veterans on film like six-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters.
“I like watching old school guys who really kind of reinvented football and changed it up,” Boone said about Waters and other players he has modeled his game after. “They didn’t do the classic one step and just go at it. They kind of used their craftiness against a guy. It is harder to do at my age because I am so young. I just want to be physical, but when you get to that age you can be crafty and be smart about things.”
Boone has sought advice on his position switch from teammates on both sides of the ball. Veteran guard acquisition Leonard Davis, a player Boone is competing with for playing time, has been giving his younger teammate tips throughout camp.
“When they brought him (Davis) in I was very happy,” Boone said about the three-time Pro Bowler. “I am a true NFL player. I understand nothing in this league is given, you have to earn everything. To bring in a guy like that, I thought I would use this to my advantage and I have. I have asked him tons of questions. I probably bothered the hell out of him. I think that he is a web of knowledge that should be drained … it has made it fun to compete.”
All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith has also shared tips on what he feels are the most effective ways for a guard to take on defenders.
Guard presents a different challenge from tackle, with pull-blocking for plays to the outside as a particular concern.
“The first time I pulled I was sweating bullets because it happened so fast,” Boone said. “I just figured I’d learn on the run. It’s been going well so far. I am having a good time fooling around.”
At 6-foot-8, Boone is taller than the average guard, a fact that has its advantages and disadvantages.
As a plus, defensive tackles aren’t as used to facing guys with Boone’s length. A challenge for Boone is when he fails to get low enough for leverage. He said 49ers defenders like Smith and Ray McDonald have made some of his days at camp longer than he would like.
While facing the stout 49ers defense is a challenge, Boone has developed good chemistry with right tackle Anthony Davis to help solidify the offense.
“I think we fit well together,” Boone said of his neighbor to the right on the offensive line. “One of the things we talked about early on was that we have the same mind frame … We are not out there to be your friend. We are out there to physically pound you and beat you up. I think together we can do that.”
Boone’s first live game action at guard took place in the team’s preseason-opening win over the Vikings.
As part of the first team offense, Boone helped lead the way for a 12-play scoring drive on the first 49ers series of the game. The 49ers offense ate up most of the 89 yards on their opening drive on the ground, but they finished with a 4-yard Alex Smith touchdown pass to wide receiver Brett Swain.
“I was happy with the way I played for my first ever guard start … I thought it was a lot of fun,” Boone said. “Anthony and I were on the same page, we worked well together. I have to get a little better.”
Boone has three more chances to show off how well he has transitioned to guard in game action before the regular season gets underway. The next chance will be a preseason trip to face the Houston Texans on Saturday.
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